Will your child make the right school lunch choices if they're offered?
More and more, schools are offering healthier choices for your child's lunch.
Educating your child on the right choices is also your responsibility.
Mark R. Corkins, MD, discusses the latest guidelines your school is facing and how important nutrient density is to your child's choices.
RadioMD Presents: Healthy Children | Original Air Date: May 13, 2015
Host: Melanie Cole, MS
Guest: Mark R. Corkins, MD
Hear it from the doctor, with expert guest from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Its Healthy Children now our favorite mom, Melanie Cole, MS.
MELANIE: Do you know what your school is serving to your kids? If you could look at the menu and change it up, how would you do that? What are the guidelines set forth for schools on feeding our kids and will kids even make the healthy choices if they’re offered them? My guest is Dr. Mark Corkins. He’s the Division Chief of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. So, Dr. Corkins, welcome to the show. Tell us about some of the nutrition guidelines that schools have to follow and any changes that have come up.
DR MARK: Well, the changes, of course, have been a move towards more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, trying to get away from processed foods. The other thing is they’re trying to gradually move away from frying and frying. It’s a quick way to fix things but it has some obvious health issues when you fry things. And so, they’ve made some moves. They’re moving in that direction. Interestingly, one of the biggest problems for the school is finding products that meet the new guidelines. Manufactures really have not moved as fast as the guidelines have towards a healthier meal. And so they’re actually saying we’re having trouble finding some products that meet our recommendations. Schools are making a real effort. It’s interesting when the guidelines were changed before there was lot of wastage. What the studies are telling us now is with exposures, actually the wastage is coming down and kids are starting to accept and starting to eat some of these healthier foods, which is very exciting.
MELANIE: That is cool. Now, typically Dr. Corkins, the school cafeterias of our past has the corn in the big huge thing and maybe the peas and carrots in the big huge thing and some kind of thing smothered in gravy, something or another. Now, I know my son they make sandwiches, there’s a pizza station. Of course, the kids would choose pizza every day, if they could.
DR MARK: Absolutely.
MELANIE: With these new new nutrition guidelines and the emphasis not on evil ingredient approaches, but more nutrient density, what do we tell the kids about making those choices, if they get to choose?
DR MARK: Yes. Well, part of that is education and making healthy choices. That is one of the highlights of the new guidelines is thinking about a concept of nutrient density. I’d like to talk about that if that’s ok, for just a minute.
MELANIE: Sure. Absolutely.
DR MARK: We went through a phase where we started making villains of some ingredients. I think the best of example is cholesterol and eggs and people started doing studies on heart disease and found out cholesterol and coronary arteries and all that and eggs are high in cholesterol and so eggs became a villain because they have high cholesterol. What we did was, we missed the fact that it’s a wonderful source of protein and very inexpensive and protein’s the most expensive part of our diet. There’s a little cholesterol but it’s not actually as bad some other things that we have in our diets. That’s an example of how we started making villains out of some of the ingredients but the trouble is when you do that you start eliminating food that have wonderful things that come with them, like the protein in eggs. And so, the concept now and the newest guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics is to think about nutrient density, look at the whole picture, look at the whole food itself and how much you get with what you get. It’s supposed to be about the whole .It’s funny. We go around these cycles and now we’re back to the idea of a balanced diet, which is the simplest concept, but we almost make it too hard sometimes. The idea that we need some protein. We don’t need too much protein. We need some protein. We need the fruits and the vegetables. We need some breads and carbohydrates. We need some dairy products for the calcium and the phosphorus and it’s supposed to be a balance and the nutrient density of what you get from a particular food, you have to look at the whole picture. What that really does is say “Okay. We want the kids to eat some whole grains. Well, butter is a fat. Isn’t that bad because fats are bad?” Well, in moderation, we have a little bit of some play and fats, a little fat on that whole grain bread makes it much better and a little butter, if you eat the whole grain roll is much better for them because of the nutrient density they get from that.
MELANIE: Sure and butter’s not even that bad for you in moderation.
DR MARK: Exactly, in moderation. Literally, the idea is we have some discretionary calories. Fancy word to say we have some to play with and if we use those calories smart, we can make our diets much healthier. For instance, it’s hard to get kids to eat unsweetened oatmeal. Put in a little brown sugar. I like oatmeal with a little brown sugar in it.
MELANIE: Yes, they’ll like it then. So, what do we do as parents to first of all, encourage our schools to follow these guidelines? We go there as parents and we look and what about the food companies that are supplying the foods to the schools? How do we as parents--you’re talking to the parents here, Dr. Corkins--how do we as parents assure that our kids are getting something healthy at the schools?
DR MARK: One of the best ways to see what the schools are serving, it is to visit. A lot of schools now have sort of wellness councils as well and they ask for people to be involved in that. I have never thought it a bad thing to be involved in your kid’s schools. It’s amazing how parental involvement, it gives you a lot more respect for the job that those folks have to do at the school and the things they have to balance. But if you have an interest, get involved in the wellness council and look at some of those things and they can help with the schools and giving them guidance. But, see what your kids are eating. Ask your kids what they’re eating. What’s interesting is, too, sometimes you ask them if a meal that’s being served to them is pretty good and then they’ll tell you it’s like they traded it with somebody for something, so you have to actually ask your kids what they’re served and what they’re eating doesn’t always match up.
MELANIE: I’m not surprised. My son actually even, because they have a card, they can spend money and get what they want. There’s still soda served there. I thought that was like something that was taken away.
DR MARK: That has been. Most schools have taken that out. There was a big move several years ago when they found out the schools were getting, basically, the soft drink companies were giving them part of the profits from the vending machines and school budgets are tight. It helped fund some things. But on the other hand, the health benefits from that, or health issues, with having the soft drinks in the schools and the school, the majority of school districts have broken those agreements. They do not have them anymore or a lot of the companies, to their credit, have taken a move and they’re putting things like water and different kinds of products in that are much better, much healthier and the soft drinks are not available like they used to be. It depends on your school district, however, and it varies school district to school district.
MELANIE: It certainly does and it’s something that parents should check and find out. We have a minute left Dr. Corkins, so wrap up nutrition guidelines in schools. I know these go very, very quickly-
DR MARK: They go very quickly.
MELANIE: Best advice.
DR MARK: The big advice is to ask your kids what they’re eating and if they are saying “Well, they are serving these healthier meals,” encourage them. Say “Hey. Isn’t that great? Maybe you should try some of these foods and maybe you should embrace some of these changes.” Again, there’s nothing like a parent to be a positive voice and encourage what the school is doing. The schools are trying to do the right thing and we should support them in that. You hear the stories of “Oh, yeah. School lunch. It’s awful. It’s awful. It’s awful,” but actually they’re trying to do a better job and we should be supportive of that.
MELANIE: Absolutely and show respect to the lunch ladies because those ladies do not have an easy jobs. Parents out there, give your kids this information. Ask them what they’re eating. Hopefully, they won’t be trading away the good stuff but I think a little nutrition, learning and education can go a long way to helping your children want to make the good choices at their schools.
You’re listening to Healthy Children. Our expert guests are provided by the American Academy of Pediatrics in conjunction with our consumer website www.healthychildren.org.
This is Melanie Cole for RadioMD. If you missed any of the great information, listen any time On Demand or on the go at RadioMD.com. Thanks for listening and stay well.