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Some Link School Lunches To Childhood Obesity

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Some put part of the blame for children's expanding waistlines on the school lunch line. Some put part of the blame for children's expanding waistlines on the school lunch line.
"We have to operate like a business, like a restaurant. And we have to offer what kids want to eat. They're my customers," said Deborah Taylor, Shawnee School Nutritionist. "We have to operate like a business, like a restaurant. And we have to offer what kids want to eat. They're my customers," said Deborah Taylor, Shawnee School Nutritionist.
Kit Hines, Tulsa Public Schools Nutritionist, says many schools do offer a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables daily, and what looks like junk food may be healthier than you might think. Kit Hines, Tulsa Public Schools Nutritionist, says many schools do offer a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables daily, and what looks like junk food may be healthier than you might think.
Allison Goss is a self-described foodie. She chronicles her obsession with eating fresh, often organic, and locally grown food on her website, "Eat Well. Love Life." Allison Goss is a self-described foodie. She chronicles her obsession with eating fresh, often organic, and locally grown food on her website, "Eat Well. Love Life."
Goss makes her macaroni and cheese with pureed cauliflower and red peppers she has roasted herself. Goss makes her macaroni and cheese with pureed cauliflower and red peppers she has roasted herself.

By Ashli Sims, The News On 6  

TULSA, OK -- Childhood obesity rates continue to rise, with one in four Oklahoma children labeled obese. Some put part of the blame for children's expanding waistlines on the school lunch line.

Pizza, chicken nuggets and egg and cheese biscuits – it seems like fast food, but it's school food. And just like restaurants, school cafeterias are catering to a choosy clientele.

"We have to operate like a business, like a restaurant. And we have to offer what kids want to eat. They're my customers," said Deborah Taylor, Shawnee School Nutritionist.

For many schools, that means serving up what some parents consider junk food. 

"And to think that children expect pizza and hot dogs and hamburgers is horribly disappointing," said Allison Goss, who is a mom and food blogger.

Goss is a self-described foodie. She chronicles her obsession with eating fresh, often organic, and locally grown food on her website, "Eat Well. Love Life." But this artist and blogger didn't always practice what she now preaches.

Goss says she experienced her own rebirth through her children. When they were infants, she made their baby food. Now, Rylan and Eliza are mini-chefs, helping their mom make healthy lunches and dinners. Goss admits the way she feeds her family isn't easy.

"I'm blessed to be able to stay home. I'm so thankful for my husband, because I can stay home and do what I'm doing. And it takes a lot of work. And it takes effort. And I had to retrain myself. I had to change the way I think about food," said Goss.

The way Goss thinks about food could change again. Her oldest son, Rylan, will head to pre-K next fall.

"I'm scared to death," said Goss.

"People don't realize the quality of the nutrition items that we offer," said Kit Hines, Tulsa Public Schools Nutritionist.

Hines says many schools do offer a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables daily, and what looks like junk food may be healthier than you might think.

"And our cheese pizza is healthy. It uses a whole wheat crust. It uses a low fat cheese," said Hines. "So it is a very healthy item compared to what you would find in your grocery's freezer."

A few clicks on the district website and they claim you can find out exactly how healthy your child's lunch really is. The cheese pizza is only 260 calories, packing 16 grams of protein.

Access Tulsa Public Schools' Lunch Nutritional Information

But a full lunch with sides and milk can swallow a major chunk of a child's daily calories. For example, a tray with chicken tetrazzini, a whole wheat roll, oven-fried okra and chocolate milk racks up almost 800 calories and 25 grams of fat.

"If we're looking at 1,600 calories, that's half your calories – half," said Suzanne Forsberg, a licensed dietician.

Ashli Sims, The News on 6: In one meal?

Suzanne Forsberg: In one meal. And we can't do that.

And what about the claim that school food is healthier than fast food?

The News On 6 compared McDonalds with a school lunch. When the chicken nuggets faceoff, the school food comes out on top with 80 fewer calories.

Chicken Nuggets

  • McDonalds 6 piece Chicken McNuggets:

280 Calories and 17 grams of Fat

  • TPS Nuggets:

200 Calories and 14 grams of Fat

But when it comes to cheeseburgers, the school cafeteria version has 40 more calories and almost four more grams of fat compared to McDonalds.

Cheeseburger

  • Mickey D's Cheeseburger:

300 Calories and 12 Grams of Fat

  • TPS Cheeseburger:

341 Calories and 15.8 Grams of Fat

"We use a nutritional analysis program where we are required to meet a certain amount of calories for elementary lunch and a certain amount of calories for secondary lunch," said Hines.

But for a mom who makes her macaroni and cheese with pureed cauliflower and red peppers she has roasted herself, federal guidelines aren't much comfort. [Get Goss' macaroni and cheese recipe.]

"The pizza that they will serve at school won't look like mommie's pizza. It won't be homemade. It won't have vegetables on it, I'm sure. We make pizza with vegetables," said Goss.

For now, her babies are still gobbling up homemade hummus and carrot sticks. But Goss worries about the day other kids' eating habits and peer pressure seeps into her kitchen.

"I don't have any idea how he's going to handle that. Or how I'm gonna handle it when he comes home and says I want to eat what other kids are eating," said Goss.

Allison Goss says she doesn't expect the school to cook the way she does, but she says she would like to see them actually cook, instead of reheat and trade processed foods for fresh produce. School officials argue they're already doing that. 


Tuesday on The News On 6 at 5:00 p.m., innovative ways schools are pushing fruits and vegetables, plus how you can help wash out some bad eating habits.

Suzanne Forsberg of St. John Health System offers a two week wash out meal plan.


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