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All school lunches should be made with healthy, real food

Staff Report • Apr 16, 2012 at 8:32 AM

We applaud a recent decision by the Washington County School System to remove any hamburger containing “pink slime” from the cafeteria menu. We are also pleased to learn that the Johnson City School System does not use the chemically induced meat filler. The city system purchases its meat whole before sending it to a processor where it is ground into patties.

Washington County Director of Schools Ron Dykes said the decision to opt out of receiving beef containing the ingredient is part of the school system’s overall goal to provide healthier meals for students.

“There’s a philosophy that this ammonia-treated product and this beef filler aren’t quite as healthy as 100 percent beef would be, and I think we had the opportunity to opt out, we just simply chose to do so,” Dykes told the Press. “I support the decision and hopefully we’ll have healthier meals as a result.”

Johnson City and Washington County schools are ahead of the curve when it comes to pursuing healthier menus in its cafeterias. And local school officials have implemented programs aimed at promoting better nutrition and physical fitness for their students. Sodas and junk food have been removed from vending machines on campuses and replaced with healthier snacks.

These are important steps to addressing an increase in weight-related disorders like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease seen among American children.

Obesity and diabetes often go hand in hand. And it is a problem that manifests itself most profoundly in this state’s youngest citizens. Tennessee is among the top five states in the prevalence of Type II diabetes in children. Tennessee, as a whole, has made some progress in reversing this frightening trend in childhood obesity. One way this state has done that is by improving the quality of food and drinks in school cafeterias.

But more must be done. British chef Jamie Oliver has brought his “Food Revolution” to America. Oliver believes schools should replace the sugar-filled and processed foods they now serve in their cafeterias with much healthier menus that feature fresh fruits and vegetables. His efforts to revolutionize school cafeterias in West Virginia and Los Angeles were met with mixed reviews by students, parents, school officials and elected leaders.

Opponents to removing pizza and starches from school menus all say the same thing: Kids like pizza and french fries and they are cheap to serve.

But Oliver and others who know better rightfully point out that this inexpensive food comes at a great cost to the health of children. Oliver notes on his website that “a diet of poor quality, cheap food” puts children at risk for “obesity, diabetes, behavioral problems and poor school grades.”

Removing processed foods like “pink slime” from school menus and asking cafeterias to serve more fresh fruits and vegetables would be an important step forward in bettering the health and well being of this country’s children.

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