Junk Lunch A La Carte

Published January 1, 2003

Public schools offering students pizza and fries as lunch alternatives not only encourage children to eat high-fat foods at school, but also at home.

Schools need to think about whether the money they collect by using the “a la carte” approach to the children’s lunch programs is worth the health care problems.

Consumer and parents’ groups have recently begun complaining about the “a la carte” programs along with the availability of vending machines, which also offer kids the “in foods” instead of nutritious school lunch.

Nine of 10 U.S. schools offer “a la carte” programs, which are not required to meet the U.S. government’s nutritional recommendations, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA guidelines call for eating at least five servings a day of fruits and vegetables and getting no more than 30 percent of calories from fat. But according to the American Journal of Public Health, the children who were allowed to choose food outside the standard lunch ate more fat and fewer fruits and vegetables than the USDA recommends.

It is not likely public school districts will give up the “a la carte” menu since it has become a moneymaker for schools. The USDA reports the average “a la carte” sales generated $913 per year per 1,000 students in the 1998-1999 school year.

IT’S YOUR HEALTH is written by Conrad Meier, senior fellow in health policy at The Heartland Institute. This program is produced as a public service by Radio America. Meier passed away unexpectedly on March 18, 2005.