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Give our kids a healthy lunch.

Too often we parents have heard some version of this familiar chorus: "That school lunch was so bad I could hardly even look at it!" "No, I didn't eat. They didn't have anything I like." "We mainly stand around and talk during gym." "I don't like to play those games at school because I get hot and sweaty, and there's hardly ever a chance to shower."

In general, many of our schools have failed to provide adequate health, nutrition, or fitness instruction because of a lack of funds or information. And busy mothers and fathers have failed to stand up and be counted for programs that will promote the physical well-being of their kids. Consider some of the results:

* Only 21 percent of children in grades 3 through 12 say they think a lot about whether the food they eat is good for them, according to a 1989 Harris poll.

* On the usual school day, 19 percent of students skip breakfast and 13 percent don't exercise even twice a week in school, according to the Harris poll.

* Of the children surveyed by Harris in grades 3 to 12, 18 percent smoke cigarettes occasionally or more often.

* Almost half of high-school juniors and seniors admit they drive after drinking alcohol.

* Approximately 25 million American children eat school meals prepared according to the standards of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National School Lunch Program; yet those government standards lack adequate guidelines about how food is to be prepared or the amounts of fat, sugar, sodium, fiber, vitamins, or minerals that are appropriate in the meals.

So we're well aware of the problems. But how can we overcome these problems and come up with some solutions?

There are three possibilities I want to submit for your consideration--the sack lunch solution, the school program solution, and the social action solution.

The Sack Lunch Solution

The best solution to inadequate school lunch programs is, of course, to get the school to change. But as we'll see a little later, that often takes time and effort and may never happen while your child is still a student.

As an alternative, parents can fall back on the old-fashioned sack lunch--but with a few new nutritional twists. Here are some tips from our nutritionists on how to prepare a healthy sack lunch:

* Don't assume you have to include a sandwich; easy-to-fix alternatives include hard-boiled eggs (left in the shell), baked chicken, soup or broth in a thermos, turkey slices without the bread, shelled nuts, pinto beans, or cubes of cheese. BUT NOTE: Whole-grain breads can supply much-needed fiber, carbohydrates, and other nutrients, so don't sell the sandwich short!

* Fresh fruits that taste great for lunch are grapes, peaches, plums, apples, melon wedges, pears, bananas, tangerines, and pineapple wedges; those that are "runny" or have excessive juice can be packed tightly in a plastic container. Raisins and dried fruit are enjoyable "sweets" too.

* Low-fat milk is usually an essential ingredient; pour it in a thermos.

* Include natural, 100 percent fruit juices.

* Many children love low-fat, fruit yogurt after they finally try it.

* Homemade cookies, made with oatmeal, raisin, or wheat germ, are good examples of nutritious sack lunch desserts.

* Homemade fruit-filled or bran muffins are another great source of fiber and carbohydrate calories.

What should you avoid in a sack lunch? Here are a few no-no's:

* Avoid commercial snack items such as cookies, cakes, or candy bars; these are usually full of too much sugar and saturated fats.

* Avoid punch and fruit beverages that are mostly colored water and contain too much sugar.

* Avoid hydrogenated, commercial peanut butter, which contains saturated fats; stick to the natural, nonhydrogenated kind.

* Avoid potato chips and related items, which typically are loaded with saturated fats.

Too often, sack lunches, as well as school lunches, contain high amounts of fat, which tend to weigh heavily in the digestive tract and may cause drowsiness. Also, kids may tend to consume too much salt and sugar from even homemade fare, which may cause problems with high blood pressure and obesity, respectively.

In general, in preparing a sack lunch, if you follow basic nutritional guidelines, you'll find that your child will have all the fuel he needs for proper growth and efficient school performance.

The School Program Solution

An even better solution for the school nutrition and fitness problem is to encourage your school to institute a program that will promote basic health principles. This way, other children will be helped along with your own. A few pilot programs in this area have been given high marks by various researchers, including the Heart Smart program, which is based on the extensive Bogalusa Heart Study in Louisiana.

Focusing on elementary schools, Heart Smart was designed to institute school programs that reduce cardiovascular risk factors in children. Specifically, the program includes a longitudinal classroom curriculum, an aerobic fitness program (as part of regular education classes), a health-oriented school lunch program, and a teacher-staff development program.

Some of the objectives of the program, according to a 1988 report in the Health Education Quarterly, include the following:

* Limiting student dietary fat intake to levels below 30 percent of the total calorie consumption

* Keeping saturated fats below 10 percent of total calories

* Restricting sodium consumption to 5 grams or less during a 24-hour period

* Increasing students' knowledge of cardiovascular health and risk factors

* Helping students to resist peer pressure to smoke or use drugs

* Developing skills and habits consistent with lifetime physical fitness

Those interested in further information can write to Dr. Gerald S. Berenson, Director; National Research and Demonstration Center--Arteriosclerosis; Louisiana State University Medical Center; 1542 Tulane Avenue; New Orleans, LA 70112-2865.

Another program, designed for children from kindergarten through the seventh grade, is Growing Health, which was developed by the National Center for Health Education; 30 East 29th Street; New York, NY 10016.

This program, which was funded through a grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, provides practical multimedia health training for children, along with special instruction for teachers. Some of the topics covered include smoking, the workings of the cardiovascular system, and emotional difficulties.

Despite the availability of these and other programs, however, many schools may not respond positively. Officials may say, "We already have adequate programs" or "We don't have money for this sort of thing." What can parents do if they run up against this sort of scholastic brick wall?

The Social Action Solution

If your school won't respond to your personal efforts to get them to improve their nutrition and fitness programs, the next step is to combine with other parents and start putting pressure on them to change. This is part of the social action tradition in our democratic system; if government agencies and officials won't listen to an individual plea, then hit them with a group. Here's an action plan that has been suggested by experts at our Institute for Aerobics Research and that has worked in a number of practical school situations.

STEP 1. Contact as many parents as you can who are concerned about the issue, and call a meeting to formulate your action plan.

STEP 2. Approach the physical education teacher, the director of the lunch program, or the principal of the school as a group. This can be done by drafting a short petition, or letter, signed by all the concerned parents. Then have one or two spokespersons present it to the school officials. The petition might read as follows:

"We, the undersigned, are deeply concerned about the school lunch program at because we have learned that our children either are not eating the food served or are concentrating on high-fat items. We would like to meet with you as soon as possible to work out a plan to improve this situation. Our representative, will be in touch with you shortly." [Signatures]

STEP 3. If you fail to get satisfaction on the school level, go to th administration above the school officials. Use the same techniques, with a letter signed by all concerned parents.

STEP 4. If you still fail to get an acceptable answer, public-school parents should go to the school board. The local school board is usually one of the most responsive agencies to public opinion and pressure, and so if you approach them properly, you should get some action.

At this stage, the more parents you have behind you, the better. Also, an endorsement by the school's parent-teacher group will be a big plus. It may even be possible to contact representatives from other schools and get them on your team.

How should you approach the school board? Sending petitions to each board member is a good idea. Also, it will help to start a letter-writing campaign, with scores of individual letters pouring in from around the school district.

Once this groundwork has been laid, you'll have to present the issue from the floor of the school board meeting. For this role, choose a committed leader of the movement who is a good speaker and highly presentable. If he or she holds some prominent better. NOTE: A reasonable presentation is always preferable, whether you're writing or speaking to the school or school board officials. Those in public positions hear more than their share of emotional parents, and so you want to set yourself and your movement apart. What you're promoting makes very good sense, and your presentation must reflect that rationality.

Be sure to avoid finger pointing or accusing individuals or officials. Instead, talk in terms of a "serious problem in our system." Also, emphasize that your main concern is the "health and welfare of our children."

Finally, be well prepared to present your case. Use pertinent facts and statistics. Undoubtedly, you'll gather plenty as you prepare for your presentation. The more information you have to back you up, the more reasonable you'll seem in arguing your case.

It's possible, of course, that this effort may fail. But more often, if you're well prepared and have plenty of parents behind you, you can expect results. And positive results will work to the benefit not only of your child and his schoolmates, but also to the benefit of all future classes.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Cooper, Kenneth H.
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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