For National Nutrition Month, focus on children’s food choices
March is National Nutrition Month, an opportunity to focus attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.
As a nutritionist at Blessings in a Backpack, child nutrition is of particular concern to me.
Blessings in a Backpack is a non-profit 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’s estimated that one in five kids get out of school on a Friday afternoon and don’t eat again until they return to school on Monday morning. Filling that 65-hour weekend meal gap to ensure kids have the nutrition they need so they can show up to school on Monday morning nourished and ready to learn.
We prioritize providing meals that meet the school nutrition guidelines established by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In February 2023, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) developed updated nutrition standards based on feedback from school nutrition professionals, public health and nutrition experts, and parents.
Based on the feedback, FNS is now proposing a phased, multi-year approach to implementing some important updates to the nutrition standards to support healthy children in an achievable and sustainable way. This includes:
- Limit added sugars in certain products rich in sugar and, subsequently, in the weekly menu
- It allows flavored milk in certain circumstances and with reasonable limits of added sugars
- Gradually reducing weekly sodium limits over many school years
- Emphasizing products that are primarily whole-grain, with the option of occasional non-whole-grain products.
The urgency 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’s public middle and high school students reported being overweight or obese, according to Florida Health Charts.
Behaviors that influence excess weight include eating foods and beverages high in calories and low in nutrients, sleep patterns, and lack of physical activity.
These children have a higher risk of asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. In addition, children with obesity are more likely to suffer from bullying, depression and low self-esteem.
As parents, school administrators, and community organizations that work with children, we must do everything we can to ensure that all children have access to quality, nutritious food.
Whether it’s introducing a child in your area to a new healthy eating option or donating nutritious snacks to local food banks or organizations, each of us can contribute to promoting healthy eating, all helping to reduce food insecurity in our community. .
Heather Dambrosi is the vice president of food 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. He spent 15 years in Hillsborough County Public Schools as a team leader for the nutrition and production team.