In a new policy statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics urges schools and families to take a broader approach to nutrition, considering children’s whole diet pattern – rather than the amount of sugar, fat or specific nutrients in individual foods.
“A good diet is built on highly nutritious foods from each of the main food groups,” said Robert Murray, M.D., FAAP, lead author of the policy statement, “Snacks, Sweetened Beverages, Added Sugars, and Schools,” published in Pediatrics. “No ingredient should be banned. A small amount of sugar or fat is ok if it means a child is more likely to eat foods that are highly nutritious.”
Since 1995, steady improvements have been made in school meal programs. Schools are serving meals with more lean meats, lower fat milks, and more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. National standards now limit the type of foods and drinks that are sold in schools. As of 2014, 92 percent of school districts reported meeting U.S. Department of Agriculture school meal standards released in 2012.
There remains an opportunity, however, to improve the nutritional quality of food brought from home, which is often lower in nutrition and higher in calories, according to the policy statement. The AAP recommends a five-step approach parents and schools can take in selecting food for packed lunches and social events:
Select a mix of foods from the five food groups: vegetables, fruits, grains, low-fat dairy, and quality protein sources, including lean meats, fish, nuts, seeds and eggs).
Offer a variety of food experiences.
Avoid highly processed foods.
Use small amounts of sugar, salt, fats and oils with highly nutritious foods to enhance enjoyment and consumption.
Offer appropriate portions.
“Children, like adults, often want their own preferred flavors and textures during meals and snacks,” Dr. Murray said. “It’s no secret that brown sugar on oatmeal, or salad dressing with cut vegetables, can make these healthy foods more palatable to children, and increase their consumption. This is not a license to give kids anything they want; we just need to use sugar, fat and sodium strategically.”