Hidden Calories in School Lunches: it’s not what you think

Bloomberg posted yesterday that the New York school system is going to eliminate whole milk from their cafeterias to cut calories. 4.6 billion calories and 422 billion grams of fat will be eliminated from the menu by this plan. A good plan for the kids involved. Well, at least a good start.

As the post notes, schools nationwide are working diligently to tweak menus and offer healthier alternatives for kids in all grades from elementary school to high school. Some schools, such as the school district my kids attend, use electronic payment systems where parents can log-0n to see what their kids have purchased. We’ve found this helpful at times to remind our kids about healthy alternatives and how to order a healthy lunch, especially on days when they find them selves either completely ravenous or with little time, which can easily happen in a typical school day.

Other school go a step further and give parents controls electronically over the types of foods their kids can purchase.

The issue, though, is not so much what control you have as a parent but what the school is offering for food and for beverages. The milk offerings are only the tip of the iceberg. It’s truly a step in the right direction to offer the lowest calorie, lowest fat milk alternative. But, kids tend to gravitate towards other beverages at schools who offer choice, and that’s where the calories come from.

In my kids’ schools, middle school and high school, a drink called Izze emerged a while back. My kids thought it was “healthy”, like a juice, because it was billed to them that way. A little investigation and we discovered it had more calories than a can of true Coca-Cola.

Here’s the breakdown:

A standard, 12oz bottle of Izze has 120-130 calories per bottle with 30 grams of carbohydrates. It also has some salt in the form of sodium.  You can find all the nutritional information in Izze drinks here.

Coca-Cola and Sprite both have 97 calories in a standard 80z can with 27 grams of carbohydrates and also some salt, sodium.  If a child drinks a 12 oz bottle or a 16-20 oz large size drink at a fast food restuarant, the calorie amount will quickly increase to the 120-200 calorie range. That’s the amount in a candy bar! You can find all the nutritional information of Coke products here.

Just for comparison, 100% fruit juice, for example Mott’s Apple juice, has 120 calories and a tad of salt, also sodium, in an 8 oz size drink. So, it’s not calorie free, either. Click here to learn more.

The take home message is all of these drinks are empty calories and contribute to the obesity issue we’re seeing today. I don’t feel any of these drinks should be offered in schools. What kids need is water, and plenty of it. If kids were not getting so many calories over all, juice with lunch wouldn’t be an issue but it becomes an issue because kids are not eating and exercising well in general. The best ways for schools to help with the obesity issue is to offer bottled water and as much of it as our kids need. They’ll feel better and learn better if they are well hydrated.

BTW, for drinks like Izze drinks, you don’t have to actually ban them from your kids diets. The goal is to teach kids that drinks that that are treats and meant to be consumed as you would a candy bar or cup cake, thoughtfully and perhaps on special occasions.  It’s all about balance and moderation. If we talk openly with our kids about this stuff now and help them learn how to not only health healthy 90% of the time but have treats 10% of the time without going overboard, they’ll grow up knowing how to lead a healthy life without all the weight issues that have plagued so many adults in our lifetime and so many kids today.

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