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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Raising a family without meat

It's a scary world out there.

I'm not really sure how to write this post, but I feel strongly about this issue. So if I wander or babble here is my apology up front.

My supper last night. A 6 oz. steak
and wedge salad.
Recently, the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has done some startling things. 1. Meatless Mondays (I choose to support Hunk of Meat Mondays) was suggested as a wise choice in the organization's company newsletter. I really don't think that the organization that is suppose to support farmers of all types should be supporting a day created by animal rights activities. 2. Even more recently has been USDA's changes to school lunch programs, and this is a what I really want to talk about.

The school lunch thing used to be a little foreign to me. In my elementary and high school we brought out own lunches. Mom usually packed them for us because we would get up early to do chores before we headed to school. However, I have talked to the boy and a lot of friends about school lunches and it was the norm in their lives. I also understand that there are a lot of families that don't have "quite enough" and the meals that their children get at school are very important. Maybe the only meals they get during the day.

Now back to USDA. USDA has made more changes to school lunch program nutritional guidelines. They include more fruits and veggies - that is awesome. They include less meat - not awesome. The new guidelines state that Grades 9-12 will get 10-12 ounces of meat a week, younger children even less. Let's put this into perspective. A four ounce serving of meat is roughly the size of a deck of cards. That means you get three deck of cards servings a week, at the maximum.

I remember when I was younger I could consume a foot-long Subway sandwich in a matter of minutes, I usually could eat two hamburgers, and my mom used to call me a grazer - I never quit eating. I was healthy, active, strong. I was on my volleyball team, danced in ballet and jazz classes wo night a week and was able to lift a 30 lbs. bucket of grain on each arm with ease. Protein was my fuel. My friend Katie Pinke has a growing, active high school son, and the new nutritional guidelines won't even meet his daily calorie needs.

Some may say well you still have the option to serve meat at home. True, but what about the families that can't afford protein options? In a 2010 survey done by Share our Strength No Kid Hungry it was reported that two-thirds of teachers said most or a lot of their students rely on school meals as their primary source of nutrition, and around two-thirds of teaches also say there are children that regularly enter their classrooms hungry because they are not getting enough to eat at home.

The Boy and I definitely will have children one day, but sometimes it scares me because of the direction of society is headed in. I watch eight years olds with cell phones, I didn't have one until college. I watch the government making more and more choices for families. It is frustrating.

I would love to hear your opinions on this. Are you a mom that is concerned about the direction USDA is taking school lunches in or maybe you are on the other side of the fence and have a differing opinion. Or maybe you are like me kind of watching from the sidelines, but don't like what is going on.


21 comments:

  1. I agree that even though I don't have kids, this still bothers me. Although I'm not sure what we can really do about it exempt talk to our representatives, from what I understand if schools don't follow it they lose their funding which means no free/reduced lunches.

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    1. I can't wait until the day that I can talk to my representative. I don't think a Canadian that can't vote holds a lot of weight. However, my residency paperwork is sent off. I'm getting closer one step at a time!

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  2. I think the government is getting a little too hot and heavy! And the USDA, have they lost their mind? Did some activist get into there without public knowledge and they are brainwashing the rest? oy!

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  3. This scares me! My daughter is only 17 months old, but what will it be like by the time she starts school? We have meat with nearly every meal - steak is a food group as far as I'm concerned. How can the government take away the only decent meal that a lot of kids are fortunate to receive at school? Wow!

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  4. This DISGUSTS me. As a mother of two hungry all the time, growing, active boys I can't imagine NOT serving meat at any meal. I am so tired of the government telling me what is best for me and my family. School lunches are NOT what they used to be anyway and this is definitely on the DOWN side. Once again...it's all about the money.
    I am for more vegetables, but include some protein too. My oldest was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes(since age 7), protein is our friend...more protein(which has little to no carbs) means less insulin for him to take. BONUS!(stepping off soap box now)
    I'm not sure who to talk to or how...but this is NOT acceptable!

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    Replies
    1. Your local legislators, your state ag department, congress men and women would be a good start. Also, make sure that other parents are aware of the changes and are voicing their opinions.

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  5. I really worry about the kids that depend on the lunch program to get them through the week to stave off hunger. It is a real problem here in Indiana as I imagine it is in other states. Our local churches even go as far as packing food for the kiddos to take home with them over school breaks because they rely on the school lunch so heavily. 1 in 4 kids in Indiana are food insecure...

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  6. I think it's something to watch and be cognizant of, but I don't think it's the doom and gloom you're painting, either.

    One thing I find interesting in that article is that it refers to grains as servings and meats in oz. A small thing, but if you read this overview from USDA, they are both requirements in ounces. http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/governance/legislation/LAC_03-06-12.pdf

    This is an incredible example of media taking information out of context/not fully understanding it before reporting on it. An important thing that you need to understand when looking at this is 1oz meat/meat alternate does not equal 1oz serving of meat. I am absolutely cheating here, but I calculate meat alternates regularly for schools. For example, without naming any products - we have a product that for every 4oz meat serving, it provides 2oz lean meat/meat alternate. So, when the school is calculating their requirements for the week this will contribute 2oz to their 8oz min, not 4oz even though that's the serving size. And the particular item I'm looking at is 23g protein per serving. Of course, that's a high example in regards to protein g - it just happened to be the first I looked at. A hot dog may be 6-10g, but the concept is the same.

    That said, is it ideal? No. Is it still too low for young kids? Most likely if they always stick to the min. But, they also get a cup of milk (protein). With the breakfast requirements going into effect for the 2013 school year, they will get another cup of milk. You also have to remember that while these are minimum requirements, the likelihood of schools feeding the minimum meat/meat alternate is unlikely. As long as they can still meet the other dietary restrictions set forth (sodium, fats, etc) it's still an economical calorie option for them. Looking at my boyfriends children's school menu for this month, the meat option for every day exceeds the minimum and there is some sort of meat serving for 2 of the 5 breakfasts (not including the milk). And, it's a low income area. Is it better than what a lot of kids will get at home? Absolutely.

    The good news is we are blessed with our fortune in life and the likelihood is that, whether we choose to have our future kids eat school lunches or not, we will more than make up for it with the meals they are eating at home.

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    1. And by you need to understand, I meant the collective you - all of us. I re-read it and didn't want you to think I was pointing the finger at you because that was NOT my intention!!

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    2. Lauren, thanks for the comment I keep rereading you article, but I have some questions. In your second paragraph - aren't oz and ounces the same? Can you explain a little bit more what you mean.

      Your point about 4 oz serving providing 2 oz of lean meat is very interesting, but bottom line those kids are still only going to get 10-12 oz of meat/meat alternative a week. I agree with you that the minimum is too low, but I guess I also think that maximum is too low as well.

      I really appreciate your input on this. It is nice to get information from someone that is involved in the food industry.

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    3. Yes oz=ounce. In my 2nd paragraph what I meant was, the Washington Post article states for grains 8-9 servings per week. But for meat they say 8-9 ounces. I don't think of 1 ounce as being a serving of grains. When I read it, I got the implication that the grain requirements were greater than the meat requirements, but they're actually equal. It's a matter of semantics, but I thought it was interesting they chose to word the 2 requirements differently.

      I think that we need to be questioning the QUALITY of the servings of protein more than the QUANTITY. With the fat and sodium restrictions they're putting into place I believe that the grams of protein/ounce will actually improve. 1 oz of hot dog is not equivalent to 1 oz of pork loin or chicken breast.

      Please don't think I think that their requirements are ideal - I just don't think they're AS bad as it seems. In general, there is a lot of reform needed in a lot of government assistance programs. But, with budget cuts and more people relying on the services, it's a bit of a rock and a hard place, don't you think?

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    4. 10-12 oz meat/meat alternate sounds bad. But, that could easily be 10 - 24 ounces of actual meat. The protein (g) is WAY more important than the protein (oz). Look at diets - we often strive to hit certain gram targets, not ounce targets.

      It's an unnecessarily convoluted system that makes it even more confusing from the outside.

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    5. I don't really understand the meat/meat alternative calculations here. Our cooks said that the 2 ounces of meat/meat alternative equals one hot dog for a high school kid. A younger child can only have 1 ounce per day and that equals a half of a hot dog. One can argue that hot dogs are not a good school lunch choice anyway.

      My biggest concern is that a one-size-fits-all approach to calorie counting never works. You must take into account activity level, fitness level, and body type. Only then can you accurately suggest what the cap on calories should be for an individual.

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    6. Yes, most hot dogs are a 1:1, so a 2 ounce hot dog = 2 ounces of meat/meat alternate.
      Deli ham could be 3:1, so a 3 ounce serving = 1 ounce of meat/meat alternate. And most of us do (or should) prepare a ham sandwich with 3ounces of meat. But, it really depends on the type of ham - is it water product, natural juice, water added.
      Unfortunately, it's not so simple to say 1 ounce isn't enough! In terms of actual volume of meat, it could be 1 ounce or it could be 4, or anywhere in between. So, on paper it may look insufficient, but in reality it is.

      The calculations take a lot of things into account: fat, protein, shrink, meat block (say beef and pork), etc. Each species and each cut contribute a certain value. Meat products made with binders and extenders do not qualify and cannot have a meat/meat alternate value. Same for things like bacon, it doesn't qualify. If you're really interested, you can look into the Food Buying Guide for Child Nutrition Programs - but, be prepared, it may look like a lot of 'mumbo jumbo.'

      You're right, a one-size fits all approach means that it isn't right for everyone. Much like using BMI as a predictor of body fat / health. When you are using something to fit a LARGE population, it works - it's about averages. For an individual, it may not. Expecting school districts to come up with the time and resources to make tailor made meals for each child is kind of ludicrous. If someone is truly concerned, the best solution is to pack lunches at home for the kids to take. School lunches are not meant to provide the nutritional requirements for all students - they're a supplement. What is happening is much better than not having a government assistance program.

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  7. When we were growing up my mom packed us massive lunches! In hindsight, they may have been a little too big, but none of us were ever overweight or unhealthy. When you're that young you absolutely need more protein than what they are suggesting. I do think that the whole idea of ingesting as much protein as possible has gotten way out of hand (protein supplements, protein bars, eating triple the suggested daily amount of meat, etc.) and is unhealthy, but going to the opposite extreme is not the answer. You should still be consuming your daily recommended amount of protein. If it's obesity they're worried about, how about adding some more physical activity into the programs? Diet is only half the battle, you have to remain active in life as well. As kids we did get large lunches but we also spent every possible moment outside playing street hockey, baseball, or other backyard sports. I don't know this for certain, but I would also suggest there are a lot of lean meat options out there as well that would still be economical for schools. As far as I know the Canadian government hasn't stepped in with something like this yet, and I hope they never do.

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  8. My kiddos started back to school this week and I found an interesting section in the student handbook that pertains to this issue. Our school is implementing a School Nutrition and Physical Activity Advisory Committee (SNPAAC). I don't know if this is a requirement for all school districts, but I believe it relates to state law (Arkansas) and not federal law. Not positive.

    The committee's responsibility is to promote student wellness by monitoring how well the district is doing at implementing their goals that pertain to improving the school nutrition environment, promote student health and reduce obesity.

    The committee must be include parents, students, teachers, school board, school administrators, community members and others.

    If your school district has such a program, request to be involved. Contact your district superintendent.

    I am concerned that our children are not being taught to eat a balanced, healthy diet, but are instead being taught that animal protein is not healthy (or at least not the best choice). Look at the USDA's "mistake" regarding meatless Monday and reports that the FLOTUS state dinner for kids excluded meat from the menu.

    Those of us involved in animal agriculture need to keep an eye on this and get involved now.

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    1. Laura, I hope you will be able to get involved. I think you are right that balance is definitely being lost in all of our diets both school and grownups. We seem to swing like a pendulm from one craze to the next.

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  9. Let's take this convo to the folks who can make a change. My congressman suggests sending letters to:

    Undersecretary of Food & Nutrition Services
    Kevin Concannon
    1400 Independence Ave, S.W.
    Washington, D.C. 20250

    Secretary of Agriculture
    Tom Vilsack
    1400 Independence Ave, S.W.
    Washington, D.C. 20250

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    1. Debbie, thanks for leaving this. I'm definitely going to be sharing this information.

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  10. Crystal,

    I find this so informative. I like you, hauled our lunches to school and sat wherever and chowed down homemade sausage & beef sandwiches. I don't know if most schools are like this in Alberta, or if this is just the case in rural areas.

    I find it absolutely STARTLING the amount of meat that is regulated to give to children. This is all? I would be so interested to know where this criteria was created & what the reasons were for implementing this.

    Thank you for putting a voice to this---you should never hesitate. Well done.

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  11. A great link to visit to educate yourself on the new requirements:
    http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/governance/legislation/comparison.pdf

    To me, it appears that the nutrition requirements are much improved from the past. With the new salt and fat requirements, the protein quality that children will be receiving at school will be improved substantially—I don’t think any of us involved in agriculture should be upset about this. I’m not claiming to be a nutritionist, I’m far from it, but I personally believe providing high quality protein is VERY important. That said, I’ll agree with Lauren on many points. By eating 3-4 ounces of meat, that doesn’t mean you’re getting enough protein in your diet (ounces does not equate to the grams of protein in each serving, all “meats” must be evaluated on an individual basis). Simply stated, 1 oz meat alternate doesn’t always equal 1 ounce of meat. I don’t think it was the intent of the USDA to cut meat out of the school lunch program, but instead, improve the overall nutritional quality of lunches offered (remember: new salt and fat requirements will automatically improve the QUALITY of protein offered). Thanks for blogging about this important topic, Crystal.

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