In Italy, school children are accustomed to penne pastas dishes and fresh tomato salads at lunchtime. In Finland, some eat crêpes topped with fresh fruit and a beet salad for their midday meal. In Spain, a combination of seafood paella and grilled vegetables is the norm. In the United States, however, American kids grow up on things like instant mashed potatoes, chicken nuggets, and frozen peas. The difference in nutritional value and fresher options is glaringly obvious, especially when you see photos of school lunches from around the world side by side with those of American schools. It’s been a challenge to standardize healthy meals in American public schools and if a divisive bill recently introduced in Congress, H.R. 610, gets passed, then the funding that is used for school meal plans could suffer even more than it does now.
When President Barack Obama was in office, his administration, along with first lady Michelle Obama, made a lot of progress to improve school lunches in the United States. In 2010, for example, Obama signed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which required schools to meet a certain nutritional standards — such as adding more fresh fruits and vegetables — in order to receive more federal funding. As The Huffington Post pointed out, by 2013, every New York City public elementary school was “equipped with a fresh salad bar in their cafeterias.”
Should H.R. 610 — called the "Choices in Education Act of 2017" — be passed, it would repeal a portion of the No Kids Hungry Act, essentially eliminating all nutritional requirements for school lunches. This means that schools would have no reason (or funding) to keep that salad bar stocked with fresh and nutritious options.
American school lunches were already struggling to keep up with the rest of the world and H.R. 610 would virtually set back decades of progress. These photos will visually prove that the U.S. government has a lot of competition and plenty of reason to improve on — rather than take away from — school lunches in 2017.
An Example Of A Typical American School Lunch
Greasy pizza, a tiny salad doused in dressing, an apple, and a milk carton to wash it all down. Other common items seen in cafeterias include salty French fries, fruit cups, and cookies. With options like these, it's no surprise that one in five school-aged children is obese, according to statistics from the Centers Disease Control and Prevention.
Next, let's have a look other countries' school lunches.
As this depiction of a typical school lunch in Italy shows, school kids eat things like pasta with tomato sauce, local fish over a bed of fresh greens, as well as fresh fruit and a vegetable salad on the side.
This photo depiction of typical school lunch in Spain features sautéed shrimp over brown rice and vegetables, gazpacho, fresh peppers, bread and an orange.
School lunch in Finland typically consists of items like potatoes, grilled fish, and a fresh salad.
This, of course, is just a sampling of a few regions around the world with more variety in their school lunches than U.S. schools (there are likely plenty more that could rival the delicious dishes pictured above), and doesn't apply to all countries, but the stark contrast is evident. America's school cafeterias are still lacking a lot of nutritious options and fresh produce, and if H.R. 610 passes, any nutritional value requirements that have been enforced previously will go right out the door (not to mention many children in the United States whose lunch at school is the only meal they will eat in a day will not have their nutritional needs met).
There's a lot to unpack in H.R. 610. Don't let school lunch nutrition fly under the radar because of it.