Sunday, August 17, 2008

Issues of Food

Joey is getting a little round. There is no getting around it: I suck as a nutritionist. Trying to take control of what Joey eats has been elusive. His love of mac and cheese does not help.

Joey normally eats both breakfast and lunch at school. The teachers use these meals to help Joey with important skills. He must ask for a tray. He must stand in line. He must communicate with the lunch ladies. He must offer his card to pay for his lunch. He must learn to eat different foods. I could go on.

So I looked up the rules about food programs in Virginia, and what is supposed to be served, because to be honest, it all looks like junk food to me: poptarts, chicken nuggets, spaghetti, potatoes, muffins. How many carbs are they supposed to be pushing on my kid?

The school lunch program is required to provide 1/3 of my child’s daily recommended intake of protein, certain vitamins and minerals, and calories. No more of 30% of the calories can be from fat, and no more that 10% of saturated fat.

The school breakfast program is to provide ¼ of these things (INCLUDING PROTEIN… how do muffins provide protein, exactly?), including calories.

All of this is based on the federal dietary guidelines. According to those guidelines (2005), Joey should be eating 1400 calories if sedentary, 1400-1600 calories is “moderately active” and as much as 2000 calories if “active.” So my first question is: how are they defining school children? Are they feeding them as “sedentary” or “active”? Because folks, it only takes 100 extra calories each day to gain 10 pounds in a year. A 600-calorie difference is huge. It is the difference between him being able to eat dinner and not.

To complicate matters, it isn't calculated daily; it is calculated as an average over the course of a week. One day that lunch could be 1000 calories, as long as over the course of the week there is a lunch with, say, 300 calories.

Let's look at a week of food from my child's school. Finding specific nutritional information about these meals has been elusive, so the calorie and carb count you see is my best guess based on nutrition information I found about similar foods available to the general public. The only information I have about the food being served is all it is listed here, so I cannot assume any of the foods are "diet" (ie, sugar-free, fat-free, etc.) unless it specifically lists the food as such on the menu. Also, I noticed they allow Joey to have chocolate milk, and he usually chooses that, so the "milk" is for chocolate milk.

The Menu: (Calories) [Carbs]
Breakfast Pizza (420) [41.5] {** “School” pizza can be as high as 530 calories!}
Chilled Juice (90) [23]
Milk (160) [25]
Total: (670) [89.5]

Chicken Patty on Bun (380) [44]
Lettuce & Tomato Cup (4) [1]
Steamed Broccoli (30) [6]
Vanilla Cream Cookie (250) [37]
Milk (160) [25]
Total: (824) [113]

Daily Total: (1494) [202.5]

Blueberry Pancake (240) [46]
w/Sausage (85) [0] {**Some sausages can be 270 calories per serving!}
Orange Wedges (62) [15] {**Assuming this means fresh oranges}
Milk (160) [25]
Total: (547) [86]

Hot Turkey/Bacon Sub (400) [47] {**This could be as low as 300 calories, as high as 600 calories!}
Seasoned Corn (67) [16]
Fresh Fruit (65) [20] {Bananas are much higher}
Apple Turnover (260) [34]
Milk (160) [25]
Total: (952) [142]

Daily Total: (1499) [228]

Ham & Cheese Croissant (280) [29]
Fresh Fruit Cup (65) [16]
Milk (160) [25]
Total: (505) [70]

Hot Dog (240) [18] {**many brands are higher, depending on the filler used}
on Bun (110) [20]
Potato Wedges (147) [31]
Chilled Peaches (80) [10]
Sherbet (120) [28]
Milk (160) [25]
Total: (857) [132]

Daily Total: (1362) [192]

Bacon & Egg (184) [0]
on English Muffin (189) [30]
Chilled Juice (90) [23]
Milk (160) [25]
Total: (623) [78]

Deep Dish Pizza (478) [57] {**Assuming it is cheese only.}
Tossed Salad (15) [2]
Green Beans (7) [1]
Choice of Pudding (130) [21]
Milk (160) [25]
Total: (790) [106]

Daily Total: (1413) [184]

Chicken Biscuit (170) [18]
Apple Juice (90) [23]
Milk (160) [25]
Total: (420) [66]

Grilled Cheese (200) [40]
Smiley Fries (160) [24]
Fruit Jell-O (70) [17]
Choice of Muffin (180) [22]
Milk (160) [25]
Total: (770) [128]

Daily Total: (1190) [194]


As you can see, my guesstimates seem to be OK, as we are consistently getting around 1400 calories per day, and about 170-200 carbs per day. Friday was the only exception; perhaps they are using a more caloric brand of chicken biscuit or cheese sandwich than I used.

Therefore, the school is assuming ALL of their children are 1. male (girls need about 200-400 fewer calories per day) and 2. active, otherwise I would have no room to feed Joey snack or dinner. We are supposed to send in a snack of a juice-box and food item every day. Normal choices would put this snack at about 100-200 calories; I have chosen more in the 30-calorie range, due to the joys of diet drinks and diet jell-o.

But wait. Is my child really active? He gets PE three days per week, and recess every day. So about an hour of his school day, maybe an hour and a half, is active, assuming he is actively participating- which, I noted in my visits, he spend a good deal of his recess time rambling about the perimeters, not running, climbing, swings, or other "active" activities. Many afternoons are taken up with therapies, not running. Let's say Joey is "moderate." He is allowed 1400-1600 calories per day.

So on many days, he may have consumed all the calories he needs before he ever reaches my door; at best, he needs no more than 200 calories at dinner. Yikes.

If I feed him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner- and nothing else- that is 300-350 calories. I could skimp it to about 250 calories. Double yikes. Skinless chicken breast with broccoli? There's 200 calories. If there is no butter on the broccoli. And he gets only one serving. And nothing else.

No wonder we're having a problem.

Hint to folks screaming about obese kids: try feeding them less at school! Just because there are kids who don't get food at home doesn't give you the right to stuff my kid full of sugar and calories. Have a kid on the free lunch program? Then provide their snack, too. And give them the extra calories there. Not at breakfast and lunch. For breakfast and lunch, assume "sedentary." Its also a good idea to assume there will be food awaiting those sedentary kids at home. Assume mom would like to make cookies once in a while. Or serve mashed potatoes with dinner. Or even peas.

So I think we're going to talk to the teachers about packed lunches, where I can control the calorie count. PB&J with carrot sticks and a sugar-free dessert, eaten with his beloved chocolate milk, is only 500 calories. A hard-boiled egg, piece of fruit, and his beloved chocolate milk is only 300 calories. Plus his 30 calorie snack- that's 850 calories. Even at "sedentary" I can feed him a nice 550-calorie dinner (still light!), and be all good!


Stimey said...

It's so hard, especially once they're out of your control. Sam and Quinn are pretty good at eating, but Jack refuses to eat almost everything except bread products, chicken nuggets, and french fries. And peanut butter and honey sandwiches. He'd probably eat 300 of those lunch calories. But he wouldn't get any nutrients.

Casdok said...

Reading this i think packed lunches are a great idea.

Niksmom said...

Don't even get me started on the hidden (or not!) sodium, sugars, additives, soy protein (which some are allergic to), etc.

Even when Nik *was* eating by mouth at school, I always sent in his food.

Packed lunches rock. :-)

BTW, I bet if thepther parents saw this kind of breakdown they would possibly get upset enough to do something about it, too.

Joeymom said...

What I find a problem is that actually, this lunch and breakfast program is doing EXACTLY what it is REQUIRED to do! INstead of taking into consideration children's food and lifestyles and individualizing, the lunch programs are designed to make sure kids get a huge number of their calories at school. In such, it assumes kids may not be getting food at home- because they are getting free food at school.

And for kids getting free lunches, it is a good assumption. This program needs to consider the other kids, too. Everyone screams about obesity, yet these programs are encouraging it in many kids!

Why not offer free snacks to kids who get free lunch? OR have desserts be extra to most kids, but available free to kids on free lunch? These can all be done discretely, as kids use cards,and not actual money, to pay for lunches now.

But I think the immediate answer is going to be packing lunch. And breakfast. If his teachers will allow it. (Remember, these meals are part of his program...)

Maddy said...

Well you're doing a far better job than me, but then the math challenge is always the worst for me.
Best wishes

Angela said...

Pack the lunches... they usually eat better when they get to help with those anyway.

Paperback Writer said...

They give kids crap because it's cheaper, and if given a choice, kids won't pick an apple if they can have a flashy Disney branded bag of deep fried lard. (Also, food marketed to kids has less nutritional value and more fat than healthy food.) I think the worst thing about school lunches is that it encourages total hedonism in eating habits, so parents will always struggle at home to get them to eat their veggies, and they grow up into adults who eat crap. And without mom to tell them what to eat, and their own finances to fund their crap-eating, we have two generations of school lunch fed kids who are epidemically obese.