Apparently a Mom in Canada was fined under the school’s new guidelines for a balanced lunch. She sent her kids with a leftover meal consisting of beef, potatoes, a glass of milk and fruit for dessert. The school then “supplemented” the home cooked meal with Ritz Crackers, that in their view represented a grain! And they fined the mother $5 for each child!
Let’s discuss this from a nutritional viewpoint. Mom made a pretty balanced meal; Protein=Beef, Veg=Carrots, Fruit=Unspecified fruit for dessert, Complex Carb=Potatoes. Now it is true that potatoes are not a grain, but they are a starchy carb that is low in fat, preservatives, salt and low on the gylcemic index (no blood sugar spike.) Plus, they are high in seratonin, which boosts brain activity. The only way it could’ve been better is if it were a sweet potato, which is listed as a top 10 super food. You might not want to make every carb source at every meal be from Potatoes (did I mention I’m living in Ireland;) grains are needed too. And I would like to see some green vegetables in there, but who are we kidding the kids probably won’t eat that without adult supervision. Good job mom – even if some dollar hungry bureaucrat says, “No.”
On the other side is the school’s “supplemental choice.” Ritz Crackers?! While it is true they are made from a grain! It’s made of highly processed, refined wheat flour. That means that the properties that make up whole grain foods/complex carbohydrates are null and void. In processed flours, the exterior fiber and shaft around the kernel have been stripped away and the kernel itself, ground down to fine powder. So the advantages of a complex carbohydrate/grain: 1) when combined with a protein source makes a full branch chain amino acid for your body and 2) fiber for your digestive track are completely absent. Additionally, not to bash Ritz crackers, because they are yummy but they also contain: partially hydrogenated oils – a.k.a. sludge for your heart and arteries – and high fructose corn syrup – another refined, not so good ingredient for your system. Plus they have very little nutritional value. But because they are tasty and small, you can consume a lot of them, way more than a serving size in record time. That means you get “empty calories.” It’s like eating fried cardboard in terms of nutritional value. You are full, but the body is not thanking you.
I am left scratching my head. The idealist in me is excited that a school is trying to take juvenile obesity, juvenile diabetes and child mind/body development seriously; and is trying to engage parents in a productive way. However, the cynic in me believes that it is just a way to make money for the school and to force kids to enroll in the school lunch program, that means more money for the school. The school’s lack of knowledge about what constitutes a “balanced meal” or a “complex carbohydrate” or a true “grain rich diet” makes me think it’s not about the kids at all.
Parents, please get in the habit of recognizing when you’re serving a balanced meal with appropriate portion sizes. Every plate should have a Protein source: meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, nuts, legumes (beans/lentils) + Complex Carb/Starch source: long grain – “coloured/i.e. black,brown,red rice, cous cous, amaranth, cracked bulged, pasta, potatoes -sweet or otherwise, oats, etc. + Fruit + Veg. As for proper portion sizes – look at the size of your hand. If you’re a mom, your hand is a different size than your husband’s or your child’s – so the amount of food that can fit in a person’s palm is roughly the right portion size!