From processed foods to vending machines, unhealthy food choices are around every corner for kids.
Middle school and high school students are not limited with their choice of snacks and meals available in their cafeteria. Soft pretzels with cheese, a variety of chips, cookies, donuts - these unhealthy snacks seem boundless. Jyl Tereso, a sophomore at Ludlow High School, says that unhealthy foods are still prevalent in their lunch line.
"Students can get the daily meal, which is like noodles, hot dogs, pizza, or they can get sandwiches or deli," Tereso said.
These have always been typical meal options in school cafeterias for students. However, the increase in processed foods along with the escalation of vending machines and snacks in schools has led to serious health problems in our youth.
Matt Dufraine, the nutrition and exercise specialist at Pioneer Valley Weight Loss Center, agrees that proper diet is crucial for children.
"There certainly is a huge amount of evidence that the diet that children eat tends to change everything about their wellbeing – their ability to thrive, their resistance to infection, their ability to maintain attention, their ability to focus," he said. "Good diets, and good nutritional support actually go into good brain cellular and nervous system development. But what we are seeing is diseases of lifestyle. We have young children getting heart disease, and young children getting diabetes type two – it’s not because of quality of nutrition, it’s about empty abundant calories."
Ludlow resident and mother of two teenagers, Colleen Coelho, is worried about the choices offered at her son’s school cafeteria.
"My biggest concern would be the fact that I don’t think a lot of it is fresh, you know there’s a lot of processed food – although they are trying to go in more healthy food kick with the schools and what the students are having, but I honestly don’t feel that again it’s fresh," she said. "Yes, it’s maybe healthier in terms of when you read what’s on the list and they’re not offering the cookies and ice cream and desserts that they had before, but I definitely think that it’s more processed."
While many schools have created healthier lunch options, the unhealthy selections outweigh healthy options.
However, there could be alternative routes to avoid greasy pizza and sugary beverages served in our schools. In fact, many schools have banned soft drinks and only provide water and fruit juice. Nutritionist Dufraine believes that proper diet and nutrition should begin at home.
"Educate the parents," he said. "Start at home. Talk to the parents about what makes a good healthy diet for kids education, attention, ability. Teach them what to feed them at home. Maybe help them pack lunches – it won’t always happen but at least give the parents the education. A third grader, fourth grader, seventh grader is not really in charge of what their food choice is. So, by educating the parent you give someone in authority the ability to feed their child with more health."
Packing a school lunch filled with the food and nutrients a parent wants their child to eat is a substantial and healthy substitute. Tereso shares her perspective on how lunch could change inside the cafeteria.
"The school could probably offer more fruits and vegetables like watermelon and grapes, and probably a salad bar where you can make your own salad," she said.