We all remember the images from the show, “Leave It to Beaver,” in which Wally and Beav, the two teenagers, would come home from school with their mother waiting—apron tied snugly around her waist—offering an after-school snack consisting of a turkey sandwich and glass of milk for each of the boys. Dinner would be in the oven, of course, usually a nice meatloaf, with corn, mashed potatoes, and a pie perched in the window to cool down. No matter what the case, Dad would always make it home for dinner, laughing, smiling, sharing stories and eating—TOGETHER.
Times Have Changed
Oh, how times have changed. It’s 2012, and unfortunately, in most cases, both Mom and Dad are forced to work, if their lucky enough to find a job. The recession has caused chaos, driving up the cost of living. According to the Huffington Post, 15 percent, or 46 million, of Americans live below the poverty line. If you include those who are living paycheck to paycheck, it equals out to be about half of the American population. Unfortunately, this translates to food allowance as well, resulting in many families having only one meal a day.
Before 2010, the USDA School Meal Programs (including the School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program) offered breakfast and lunch to low-income children at a free or reduced price, those children often went home to a pantry with little to no food. According to the website strength.org, hunger affects students’ ability to concentrate, makes them more susceptible to sickness, and affects their emotional health. Schools nationwide began to notice the impact of hunger on those affected by the recession and knew something had to be done. Thankfully, President Obama stepped up to the plate in 2010, and introduced the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act, which expanded the afterschool meal program to all 50 states, improved the area rules so that more kids were eligible for the program, extended the program into the summer when school was out, and improved the quality of the food to include healthier choices. Before the program was introduced, only 13 states were covered, and the majority of states only gave out snacks. With the act signed into law, there will be about 21 million additional dinners served by 2015. Advocates for the poor praise Obama for signing the law; yet, there are also critics that think the law is taking away from time that needs to be spent with the family. As Rush Limbaugh stated, “Why even send the kids home?”
But Does Family Dinner Equal Better Outcome for the Kids?
A paper written by Washington State University professors, Martha Marino, MA, RD, CD and Sue Butkus, PhD, RD, focused on the importance of eating meals together as a family. According to their research, the benefits of eating together include: better communication, better school performance and better overall adjustment; they were less depressed, less likely to do drugs, exhibit difficulty at school and get in trouble in school. They also found that those children who ate meals with their families ate more fruits and vegetables, drank more juice and less soda. Mothers in the Nutrition Education Network of Washington’s focus groups said, “When we eat together, we eat better.”
School meals have also proven in the past to be higher in fat, saturated fat, and sodium—but so is the diet of the average American nowadays. Thankfully, the Obama administration noticed in increase in obesity in children and in 2010, First Lady, Michelle Obama, introduced the “Let’s Move” campaign, which emphasized healthy families, communities and schools by exercise and good nutrition. The USDA has now placed guidelines that will improve the nutritional quality of school meals on a daily basis. The First Lady announced on February 10, 2012 that 2,862 schools have now met the HealthierUS School Challenge, surpassing the goals of this key component of her Let’s Move! initiative.
The Debate Continues
So while the debate still goes on as to whether schools should be stepping in to serve three meals a day to children, at least those children least fortunate than others are now getting healthier food and going home with full tummies, as opposed to the alternative.
As Kate Lareau, a Memphis-based not-for-profit grant writer that works with people in a south Memphis housing project, said, “Do we need to provide all three meals? I’m not sure,” she said. “But I personally know children who don’t get any food after they get home. I don’t want those kids to be hungry for sure.”