Doctors say school lunches still failing to make the grade

With schools starting up all over the country, kids have one more thing besides pop quizzes and exams to worry about this fall, school lunches.

For the fourth year in a row, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) used its School Lunch Report Card to analyze the nutritional quality of elementary school lunches served in school districts participating in the USDA’s National School Lunch Program. The NSLP serves more than 28 million lunches a day at 100,000 schools and childcare institutions across the country.

While there are bright spots—Fairfax County (VA.), San Diego and Detroit scored respectable “Bs” and Las Vegas/Clark County schools jumped from an “F” last year to a “C+” this year—PCRM’s 2004 School Lunch Report Card finds that many schools are struggling to make the grade when it comes to serving healthy, low-fat lunches. Six of the 11 school districts rated this year eked out “Cs.” Maryland’s Baltimore County chalked up a “D.” Albuquerque’s schools failed outright with an “F.” Of 25 school districts approached, only 11 provided complete information. The lesson?

“To make ends meet, too many school lunch programs depend on commodity foods available through the NSLP,” says Jen Keller, R.D., PCRM’s nutrition projects coordinator. “These USDA surplus foods include too many high-fat, high-cholesterol meats, dairy products and processed foods, and not enough produce and healthy vegetarian entrées and side dishes. With one in five school age children considered overweight, we’ve got to get a lot more nutrient- and fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains on school menus, and a lot less pizza, tater tots, and french fries.”

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