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School lunches high on price; short on nutrition

School lunches need more fruits, veggies and whole grains and a limit on calories, says a report urging an update conducted by The Institute of Medicine (part of the National Academies) of the nation’s 14-year-old standards for cafeteria fare. But the changes won’t come cheaply. Schools can’t put just anything on a kid’s lunch tray. They must follow federal standards, because the government’s school lunch program subsidizes lunch and breakfast for needy kids in nearly every public school and many private ones. Yet those standards are lacking. They don’t restrict the number of calories kids are offered, even though childhood obesity keeps climbing. And they don’t match up with the government’s own dietary guidelines, which serve as the basis for the familiar Food Pyramid and were updated in 2005. They call for lots of fresh fruit and veggies and more whole grains. ”Today, overweight children outnumber undernourished children, and childhood obesity is often referred to as an epidemic in both the medical and community settings,” Virginia Stallings, who chaired the report committee, wrote. The proposed standards won’t be cheap. The committee said breakfast prices could soar 20 percent, and lunch prices could rise by 4 percent. That’s daunting for school kitchens, which get less from the government, $2.68, than it actually costs to make each free lunch, about $2.92, according to a recent survey done by the School Nutrition Association. Combine that with rising food and fuel prices, and school kitchens are feeling the squeeze. Many have been raising prices for full-price meals. So what should we, as a nation, do? Is proper diet and nutrition a real issue? Are our students eating properly? Should it even be a concern of the school systems? Where is the breakdown? GO!

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