eating strawberryThe American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently released a policy statement on food in schools emphasizing a “whole nutrition” approach to food that is consumed in school.  This could include breakfast, lunch, and/or snacks.  The writers point out that there have already been changes in school lunches to make cafeteria food more nutritious, but lunches that students bring to school might not meet healthy standards.  Having healthy, nutritious meals throughout the school day is essential for concentration in class and performance in sports and gym class.  How can parents help teens eat healthy at school?

A few more key points from the AAP statement:

– the USDA recently released guidelines for snacks in schools, which includes those in vending machines and ala carte lines, demanding that they be more nutritious.

– New snack requirements: Snacks sold at schools must have a fruit, vegetable, a dairy product, or a protein food as its first ingredient, be a whole grain product, contain at least one-quarter cup fruit or vegetable; or contain 10% of the Daily Value of calcium, vitamin D, potassium, or fiber.

– Other guidelines to limit fat, sodium, sugar, and calories.

– Schools have done a GREAT job of replacing soda with healthier options such as milk, water, and 100% juice, and working to provide healthier options for student lunches.

Here are some good tips for making sure your teen has healthy options at school:

– Sports drinks (Gatorade) are really only appropriate for prolonged, intense exercise sessions. Water should be the go-to drink for rehydrating.

– Added sugar doesn’t have to be eliminated completely, as long as it is added to healthy foods.  For example, say at School A, students are only allowed to drink plain milk (either 1% or nonfat, or nondairy milks).  At School B, students are allowed several choices of milk flavors–say plain, chocolate, or strawberry.  We will probably see more students at School B drinking milk overall than we would at School A, because flavored milk tastes better to some students.  That means that students at School A may not be getting all the healthy protein and vitamins that they need from milk, and may be substituting a non-nutritious drink instead.

– Some places where parents can help influence are snack bars, fundraisers, and team dinners or parties. For example, pizza is something teens love–substituting a whole wheat crust will give whole grains. Swap out pepperoni for lean chicken and add veggies as toppings. Consider using non-food fundraisers or treats for birthdays.

– Advocate for your teen’s schools to use the USDA guidelines:

We want to give kids the healthiest foods we can while still giving them something they want to eat.  Otherwise, they are likely to choose food that tastes good, but isn’t as healthy.  It’s all about balance.  And again, it’s okay to use sugar, salt, and healthy fats sparingly to make nutritious food taste good!