Shining a Spotlight on Opportunities to Build a Healthier Generation of Children

by David Thomsen, Policy Analyst, Health Policy Project, NCLR

Today, 40% of Latino children (seven million) are overweight or obese compared to 28% of non-Hispanic White children. September marks National Childhood Obesity Month and an opportunity for us to focus attention on the issue, which is threatening the quality of life for a generation of American children. Through various policy and advocacy efforts, we are working to ensure that all kids have the chance to lead a healthy life, no matter who they are, where they live, or how much their family earns.

When it comes to Latino children, access to healthy food is especially critical, as 24% are at risk of going hungry. So it’s timely that federal nutrition programs are up for reauthorization this year: it provides Congress with an opportunity to maintain the gains these critical programs have made to improve the health and well-being of America’s children.

Increasing Healthy Food Access for Latino Children at School

In addition to the various nutrition programs up for review, there are components of the current law that can help alleviate hunger today.

One key example is Community Eligibility. Schools nationwide, in which 40% of students automatically qualify for free lunch, can provide free school breakfast and lunch to all of their students. This is critical for Latino children, as they account for nearly one-third of those eligible for free and reduced-price school meals who are currently not participating. There are several reasons for these gaps, including issues related to the application process, language access difficulties, and the stigma of receiving a free meal.

Through Community Eligibility, schools can address each of these barriers. Studies show that adoption of Community Eligibility increases participation in the National School Lunch Program by 13% and participation in the School Breakfast Program by 25%. By taking advantage of an existing opportunity, schools can choose to provide two free school meals each day to those children most at risk of going hungry.

Increasing Healthier Options and Shaping a Healthier School Environment

Schools are such critical environments for a child’s development and well-being, especially for children experiencing issues related to hunger. These children consume up to 40% more of their daily calories at school compared to other children. Unfortunately, schools with a majority of Latino children may not provide the same healthy, nutritious options as other schools.

The good news is that existing local school wellness policies can provide parents and guardians with a platform to advocate for more nutritious food options. Strong nutrition standards for all food and drinks served in school can help reduce risk of obesity and overweight among Latino children. However, in order for these policies to work, schools must communicate their own wellness policies in a way that is culturally and linguistically meaningful for everyone. By ensuring that everyone has a seat at the table, we can ensure that food and drinks served to Latino children have the same nutritional value as those served to other kids.

Using All of Our Tools

National Childhood Obesity Month provides an opportunity for all of us to look at ways we can reduce disparities in hunger and obesity and invest in the health of all of America’s children, including Latino children. At NCLR, we will continue to use the various tools at our disposal to ensure that this generation of children does not become the first not to outlive their parents.

How to Pack Healthy School Lunches: Friday

The last, but certainly not least, of our school lunches this week comes to us by way of our Chief Financial Officer, Holly Blanchard, whose ten-year-old son, Eric, is in the fifth grade.

Here’s what Holly packed:

School lunch photo_forEric_Holly

  • Wrap pinwheels with low-fat ham, turkey, and salami
  • Low-fat string cheese
  • Carrots
  • Apple slices
  • Baked goldfish crackers
  • Water

Helpful tip: Be careful with added sugars and fat. Most of us, including children, consume more sugar than we should. An obvious tip is to limit cookies, snack cakes, doughnuts, brownies, and other sweet baked goods. Sweet baked goods are often packed with sugars, as well as saturated and trans fats. Remember that these are meant to be treats and consumed only in small portions, every once in a while—not every day. Sugar is also found in foods we often don’t think of as being “sugary,” such as juice. If you pack juice, make sure it’s 100 percent juice, which is not always the case with many of the popular juice drinks for children. Water is an even better choice. Milk is an excellent source of dairy, if you are mindful of recommended servings per day and choose low-fat or non-fat milk rather than whole milk, which has more fat and cholesterol.

Today’s meal rounds out our week-long look at examples of healthy school lunches. Be sure to read all our helpful tips and let us know what kind of lunches you’re packing for your kids!

How to Pack Healthy School Lunches: Thursday

The fourth in our school lunch series comes to us from the Associate Director of our Institute for Hispanic Health, Alejandra Gepp. Her daughter Annie is 13 and takes gym class five days a week. She is also an avid soccer player. To get Annie through what can be long days, Alejandra makes sure to pack a lunch and snacks.

Here’s what Alejandra packed for Annie:

Annie's Lunch_Alejandra_smsize

• Peanut butter and jelly sandwich on 100% whole wheat bread
• Low-fat yogurt
• Grapes
• Almonds with dark chocolate
• Granola bar and apple sauce (for an after-school snack)

Helpful Tip: Use whole grains and lean meats. Sandwiches are a popular and convenient choice for school lunches. They can provide children with at least 2–4 of the differentfood groups. When choosing bread, read the nutrition label to see if “whole grain” is the first ingredient listed or choose bread that is labeled “100% whole wheat”; white, “enriched,” and “refined” breads have little nutritional value. If the main flour listed on the label is “wheat” or “unbleached wheat flour,” the product is not whole grain. For protein, use lean luncheon meats, such as low-fat turkey breast, chicken breast, or ham. If you must add cheese, make sure it’s also low-fat. With peanut butter, opt for natural or a brand that has no additives, when possible.

Be sure to check back here tomorrow for the last in our series of healthy school lunches for your children

Read all our helpful tips for packing healthy school lunches.

How to Pack Healthy School Lunches: Wednesday

Today’s school lunch comes to us from our Communications Manager, Kathy Mimberg. Kathy has the oldest child to feed this week as Matthew has just started high school. Matthew is a very active teenager, participating in a variety of sports seven days a week. He has some great lunch in store for him today! Here’s what Kathy packed for her growing, energetic 14-year-old:


  • Tuna (canned, packed in water) mixed with light mayonnaise, cumin, and raisins, on multigrain bread
  • Apple slices dunked in water and lemon juice to prevent browning
  • Red pepper and cucumber slices with light ranch dressing
  • Almonds, raw and unsalted
  • Plain popcorn
  • Bottled water

Helpful tip: Include variety and start early. The key to providing children with good nutrition is to have well-rounded meals that include the various food groups. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, keep it colorful and strive to eat fruits and vegetables that represent a whole rainbow of benefits. Presentation matters, even for children, so get creative with designing fun and visually appealing meals and snacks. Remember to start early and introduce healthy foods as early as infancy.

Be sure to check back here tomorrow for another nutritious meal to send to school with your child.

Read all our helpful tips for packing healthy school lunches.