Dietary guidelines for free school meals need updating

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FILE. Letter writer says, 'Free school meals are a necessity for some families to ensure their children are receiving the nutrition they otherwise may not, but some elements of the program's dietary guidelines need updating.' (Skip Dickstein/Times Union)

FILE. Letter writer says, ‘Free school meals are a necessity for some families to ensure their children are receiving the nutrition they otherwise may not, but some elements of the program’s dietary guidelines need updating.’ (Skip Dickstein/Times Union)

SKIP DICKSTEIN

Free school meals are a necessity for some families to ensure their children are receiving the nutrition they otherwise may not, but some aspects of the nutritional quality of these meals still remain an area of improvement.

The National School Lunch Program developed under the U.S. Department of Agriculture established its fruit-serving requirement based on 2005 dietary guidelines. The program permits the substitution of 100 percent fruit juice for up to half of the fruit serving. For some schools, this presents an easier and more budget-friendly option to satisfy the fruit serving for a meal.

However, the USDA itself notes that fruit juice lacks dietary fiber and can contribute to extra caloric intake, especially when such substitution occurs routinely.

In an effort to reduce the development of health comorbidities among children and adults, eliminating this substitution would provide a small but impactful opportunity for intervention.

A few options may be explored to address this: Supermarket produce surplus could be redirected to local schools. Local partnerships could be set to get more fresh fruit into schools. New York state has a farm-to-school program that could potentially assist in this goal by providing more nutritious fruit options for children across the state. This program provides financial assistance to schools to ensure the distribution of local, seasonally varied produce to children. Such a partnership would not only benefit children by providing better nutrition, but also local farms and businesses by providing potential for growth.

With the increasing prevalence of childhood obesity and its associated comorbidities, providing healthier options for fruit servings could yield short- and long-term benefits for children.

Ayesha Ropri, MD

Watervliet

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