For National Nutrition Month, focus on baby food choices
March is National Nutrition Month, an opportunity to focus attention on the importance of making informed dietary choices and developing healthy eating and physical activity habits.
As a Nutritionist at Blessings in a Backpack, childhood nutrition is a particular concern of mine.
Blessings in a Backpack is a nonprofit organization that mobilizes communities, people, and resources to provide food on the weekends to elementary school children who might otherwise go hungry.
Here in Central Florida, it is estimated that one in five children leaves school on Friday afternoon and does not eat again until they return to school on Monday morning. Filling the 65 hour meal gap at the weekend to ensure children get the nutrition they need so they can go to school on Monday morning fed and ready to learn.
We prioritize serving meals that meet the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) school feeding guidelines.
In February 2023, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the USDA developed updated nutrition standards based on feedback from school nutritionists, public health and nutrition experts, and parents.
Using the feedback, the FNS now proposes a phased, multi-year approach to implementing some important updates to nutrition standards to support healthy children in a sustainable and achievable way. These include:
- Limit added sugars in some high-sugar products, and later throughout the weekly menu
- Flavored milks are allowed in certain circumstances and with reasonable limits on added sugars
- Gradual reduction of weekly sodium limits over several academic years
- Focus on products that are primarily whole grains, with the occasional option for non-whole grain products.
The urgent need to prioritize nutrition in school meals is more important than ever.
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Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates have tripled. Today, one in five children in the United States is overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In 2021, more than 32 percent of Florida public middle and high school students reported being overweight or obese, according to Florida Health Charts.
Behaviors that influence excessive weight gain include eating foods and drinks that are high in calories and low in nutrients, sleep routines, and physical inactivity.
These children are more likely to develop asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. In addition, obese children are more likely to experience bullying, depression, and low self-esteem.
As parents, school administrators and community organizations working with children, we must do all we can to ensure that every child has access to good, nutritious food.
Whether it’s introducing a child in your sphere of influence to a new healthy food option or donating nutritious snacks to local food banks or organizations, each of us can contribute to promoting healthy eating, all while helping to reduce food insecurities in our community.
Heather D’Ambrosi is vice president of nutritional solutions for Blessings in a Backpack, which helps feed more than 5,600 children in 42 schools every weekend in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties. She spent 15 years with the Hillsborough County Public Schools as a Nutrition and Production Team Leader.