Vending Machines and A La Carte Lunches: Sabotaging the System?

Articles
May 07, 2009

Vending Machines and A La Carte Lunches: Sabotaging the System?

The childhood years spent in school are critical to proper growth and development in a variety of different areas, many of which are directly impacted by the foods we eat. Proper nutrition is essential. The National School Lunches Program (NSLP), regulated and advised by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), currently subsidizes nutritionally balanced school lunches to approximately 30 million students each day at participating schools. This also includes afterschool snacks served to students during educational enrichment programs. This is a great program but unfortunately follows outdated nutritional guidelines (last updated circa 1979), fails to include other food available in schools and therefore competes with privately contracted vending machines stocked with junk foods, sugary drinks, and nutritionally disastrous a la cart menus. Many students consume greater than 50% of their total daily intake while at school, eating breakfast, lunch and a snack prepared by the food service or dropped by the mechanical spiral of the vending machine. It’s no surprise that most kids when faced with the choice of a pack of cookies or fresh fruit will almost always grab the cookies. Unfortunately, this reality practically negates the purpose of the NSLP program.

The childhood years spent in school are critical to proper growth and development in a variety of different areas, many of which are directly impacted by the foods we eat.  Proper nutrition is essential. 

The National School Lunches Program (NSLP), regulated and advised by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), currently subsidizes nutritionally balanced school lunches to approximately 30 million students each day at participating schools. This also includes afterschool snacks served to students during educational enrichment programs.

This is a great program but unfortunately follows outdated nutritional guidelines (last updated circa 1979), fails to include other food available in schools and therefore competes with privately contracted vending machines stocked with junk foods, sugary drinks, and nutritionally disastrous a la cart menus.

Many students consume greater than 50% of their total daily intake while at school, eating breakfast, lunch and a snack prepared by the food service or dropped by the mechanical spiral of the vending machine. It’s no surprise that most kids when faced with the choice of a pack of cookies or fresh fruit will almost always grab the cookies. Unfortunately, this reality practically negates the purpose of the NSLP program.

Luckily, we can thank Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa for introducing the Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act (S. 934). Harkin’s legislation addresses the weak points described above. The USDA’s definition of Foods of Minimal Nutritional Value is currently being updated based on the most current nutritional science and would be factored into the bill.

The bill, if passed, would also expand the authority of the Secretary of Agriculture, to regulate foods brought into schools through private contractors, based on the same standards guiding the NSLP.

This legislation would benefit all students nationwide, ensuring that available foods in schools met adequate nutritional standards. Harkin’s initiative is certainly inline with the countries push towards a healthier American youth and a combination of influential medical, health and advocacy groups support this legislation.