Marianna McMurdock | Photographer
First Lady Michelle Obama herself said, “We can all agree that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, all children should have the basic nutrition they need to learn and grow and to pursue their dreams, because in the end, nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children.”
Now more than ever, health has become a main focus and concern for the government. As of now, one in every three kids in America is overweight. This is triple what it was fifty years ago, and the government is doing what they can to keep school foods healthy. But is the food we’re being served actually healthy?
“All meals, snacks, and beverages sold in Poway Unified School District schools meet or exceed all nutrition regulations. No foods served by the PUSD Food & Nutrition Department are fried, and none of our foods contain trans fat,” nutrition specialist Emily Cena, RD, said. “Sometimes, the popular food choices offered in schools are misunderstood as junk food.”
Cena works with PUSD and she helps plan the menu, develop the recipes, and make sure all foods meet health requirements. She works with the planning committee to decide what gets sent to the schools.
Cena explains how the foods served in our cafeterias are different than what are served in restaurants. For example, the pizzas at school are full of whole grains, and are low in fat, unlike regular pizzas.
Another thing that Cena points out is that the a la carte items are meant to supplement the lunch menu, not replace it.
“If a student chooses a complete school lunch with all 5 food groups, they will very likely meet their nutritional needs for that meal. If a student chooses to buy a la carte snacks only, they are less likely to meet their nutritional needs,” Cena says.
Although everything on the a la carte menu does meet the health requirements, they do not necessarily a well-balanced meal.
“It is also important to recognize there is wide variety in the individualized needs of each student. A petite ninth-grade female, for example, probably has very different calorie needs than a large, muscular, twelfth-grade male. We do our best to provide options that allow students to meet their individualized needs,” Cena said.
This may also be a large reason why school lunches are thought of as unhealthy. Everyone has a different body that requires different foods. It would be impossible to make a menu that satisfies every student’s needs.
Something that most people don’t know is that the school district has a completely separate budget than the Food and Nutrition Department. The Food and Nutrition Department is a non-profit organization that receives no funding from the district.
Since 1946, health has been a component of school meals. As of now, foods must comply with quite a few regulations, all of which can be found on the PUSD website.