By Adriana Salas, Missile Ranger Staff WriterJune 11, 2010
WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M., June 10, 2010 - With the current rate of childhood obesity more than tripling in the last 30 years, the Missile Ranger took a look at the situation at White Sands Missile Range as first lady Michelle Obama implements a new program to help combat the ongoing epidemic.
Obama's program titled, 'Let's Move", was developed to provide healthier lifestyle choices for children both at home and at school. According to the program's website, almost half of a child's daily calorie intake is consumed at school, where students are fed breakfast, lunch and have access to snacks. The new implementation will affect every school nationwide, to include schools on military bases.
For a large number of WSMR children the main source of nutrition and vitamins comes from what children eat at school and daycare centers on post.
"Many of the things they have been talking about we have already been working on," said Nancy Cathey, director of Food Services for Las Cruces Public schools.
Cathey said her staff works really hard to offer a variety of entrees for every school level and incorporates many oats, fruits, and whole grains into the menu. She said most of the breads used for hoagies and hamburger buns are made out of wheat.
When the "Let's Move" program becomes fully integrated, Cathey said you will not see many changes because providing healthy food has always been a top priority for the LCPS and will always continue to be a work in progress. Cathey's goal for schools in the oncoming years is to incorporate more wheat products into the program, substitute brown rice for white rice, and provide lower sodium foods for at least two or three of the lunches each week.
Shawn Ticho, a White Sands Elementary School parent, agrees with the variety of food offered. However, he feels the food could be of higher quality, but ultimately lets his son be the judge.
"He seems pretty happy with it," Ticho said. "I think they can make the food a little bit healthier, but you have to make food a little bit fun for the kids."
Jennifer Jojola, White Sands Missile Range's Health Promotion Center Coordinator, said it is important to monitor what your child is eating at school and daycare, because a child should have a recommended amount of dietary intake based on their age, gender, and amount of physical activity. Using the USDA's Dietary Reference Intake, a set of guidelines used for the daily intake of nutrients, when referring to calcium, a toddler between the ages of 1 and 3 should have an intake of 500 milligrams a day, where a child between the ages of 4 and 8 should intake about 800 milligrams a day. Jojola said that although schools that are federally funded must meet these requirements, it is up to the schools to choose how the requirements are met, and advises that, if economically possible, parents should pack their child's lunch to be able to cater to their child's nutritional needs.
"It would be near impossible for a mass production system to meet everyone's expectations, so a parent should be informed," Jojola said. "If there is a meal that doesn't work for you or your child, plan ahead and pack them a lunch or a snack."
Val Wright, a White Sands Elementary School parent, said she does just that when her child complains about the lunch to be served that day. Wright said her son's biggest criticism about the food is not the taste or variety, but the portion sizes being too small. The portion size or amount of essential nutrients does change as you grow older, Jojola said. According to DRI guidelines, a child between the ages of 4 to 8 needs at least 15 grams of protein, while a male between the ages of 14 and 18 needs 44 grams of protein a day.
"It needs to be healthy of course, and it appears to be healthy; he just doesn't feel like he gets enough," Wright said.
Both the Las Cruces Public School District and the Child Youth and School Services use USDA guidelines for their menu, which states that no more than 30 percent of a persons daily calorie count can come from fat, and that less than 10 percent needs to come from saturated fat. Schools are also asked to provide one-third of the Recommended Dietary Allowance, RDA, for the following: protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Iron, Calcium, and calories. The guidelines also state that though schools must meet these regulations, it is up to the school or organization to decide what foods to serve and how they are prepared and cooked.
"All the meals we offer are prepared at a centralized kitchen," said Denise Rodriguez, chief Child Youth and School Services. "We do not offer pre-packaged food."
CYSS provides breakfast, lunch and snacks to children that are cared for during and after school, from elementary to middle school. The menu that was provided for the week of May 10-14 offered a variety of fruits, oats and dairy products. "We try to make it as healthy as possible for our children, we have at least two different food groups in each menu," Rodriguez said.
According to Cathey, the LCPS district is currently attempting to integrate healthier items into their meals, but since they are allotted only a certain amount of funds, the integration of healthier, more expensive foods has weighed heavily on staffing.
"You have to do a whole balancing act all the way around," Cathey said. "That's the reason you do this slowly, so that you may be able to afford it."
The Federal Government has recently reauthorized the National School Lunch Program to increase the amount of funds reimbursed to school districts to $2.70 for each free meal they provide to a child. In 2009 the LCPS district received only $2.59 per each free meal. Cathey said 22 cents of that amount would go to milk, which would leave them with only a small margin to work with. With the increase in funds and lowering of food prices, to include milk, Cathey said the LCPS district will be able to purchase healthier foods for the students without affecting staffing numbers.
Cathey said 90 percent of elementary school students eat lunch at school, compared to only 30 percent of high school students eating lunch at school. Cathey attributes the 60 percent decrease for high school students to the fact that they are allowed to leave campus during lunch time. Cathey said high school students are offered a choice of five to seven entrees each day, but many of them prefer to eat at fast-food chains outside school grounds.
"If I don't like the lunch here I usually bring my own lunch, but that is usually about once a year," said Morgan Burch, a middle school student at White Sands Schools.
Burch and his friends had few complaints about the school lunches; however, all agreed that if they get stuck at the back of the lunch line they had little to no options on what they would be eating that day. Burch said the lunches are fairly priced and he, along with his friends, agreed that they would like to see a greater variety of food.
"I don't really feel too good about the pizza, it's always just cheese," said Christine Wicker, a middle school student. "I don't find the taste that appealing; I'd like more chicken sandwiches."
Both the LCPS district and CYSS said they accommodate any dietary needs children may have. Cathey added that the LCPS district is looking at bringing in greater vegetarian options for their students. Both menus are available upon request.
"Getting involved and providing feedback regarding school meals, along with becoming an active participant, can have a tremendous impact on what your child is being served and their future food habits," Jojola said.
Aca,!Ac Jennifer Jojola may be contacted at Jennifer.email@example.com or at (575) 678-2795.
Aca,!Ac Log on to www.mypyramid.gov for information on a healthy diet as well as recommendations on how to meet nutrient needs.