School Lunch Experiment

In reading about the new USDA school breakfast and lunch standards, I realized I should try a real-life experiment with my own kids: only feed them meals within the parameters of new nutrition standards, just to see if reasonable and satiating meals could be created from the rules. But 1) I didn’t want my already skinny kids to go hungry and 2) I didn’t want to see food thrown in the garbage. I also didn’t want to hear more whining and complaining from my already whiny kids. Then it dawned on me: why not follow the new guidelines myself? Surely the USDA standards for a high school student would be enough for a non-athletic housewife.

Here is a link to the guidelines; numbers in each category are amounts per five day week, while numbers in parentheses are amounts per day. The daily high school amounts come out to:

breakfast: 2 oz. of grains; 8 fluid oz. milk
lunch: 1 cup fruit; 1 cup vegetables; 2.4 oz. grains; 2.4 oz. meat or meat alternative; 8 fluid oz. milk

The fine print provides further stipulations. Milk must be low fat or skim; grains must be whole grain (no white bread or white rice); dried fruit is measured at half capacity (i.e. 1/2 cup dried fruit = 1 cup fruit); fruit juice can only be half of a fruit serving (for lower grades, this would mean no more than 1/4 cup of juice per lunch- why bother?). The vegetable fine print is really confusing. There are five subcategories of vegetables:

dark green

 …but “any vegetable subgroup may be offered to meet the total weekly vegetable requirement” (footnote “h”) and “larger amounts of these [i.e. all sub groups] vegetables may be served” (footnote “f”). If any vegetable can be served to meet the requirements, why bother dividing them into categories? So if I’m understanding this correctly, you can eat as many vegetables (including potatoes and beans) as you want, as long as the meal caloric total does not exceed 850 calories. I have to admit, I’m hard pressed to see how a cup of fruit, a cup of veggies (though a cup of leafy greens is only considered half a cup of veggies), 2.4 oz each grain and meat, and 8 fluid oz of milk will approach anywhere near 850 calories, especially when fat must be less than 10% of all calories (compare this to an Atkins style diet where as much as 50% of calories come from fat). So for an 850 calorie meal, you’re only allowed 85 calories of fat. That’s less than a tablespoon of olive oil.

Breakfast was 2 oz. focaccia and 1 oz. swiss cheese. I only have whole milk in the house, which is not allowed, but a cup of low fat milk is about 100 calories, so I had 100 calories of cheese instead.

Not viking fare.

I ate at 6:30am and was hungry by 8:30, but not severely. I realized after the fact that the focaccia was not whole grain, so I started some (whole, unsweetened) oatmeal with half a cup raisins (which equals “1 cup of fruit’) in the crock pot for lunch. I was ravenously hungry by 10am, but wanted to hold out to noon (I ended up eating at 1pm because I ran errands).

Lunch was a feast compared to breakfast. Since I was allowed “larger amounts” of vegetables I had a large salad, 2.4 oz oats (measured dry) cooked with 1/2 cup raisins, 2.4 oz of baked chicken cutlet, and 100 calories fresh mozzarella (in lieu of 100 calories of milk).

Better, still not viking fare.

It was all delicious especially since I was starving, but I daresay not kid friendly- except for the measly chicken cutlet. My kids won’t eat oatmeal unless it’s cooked with sugar and whole milk. They may have taken a few bites of salad (minus the vinaigrette) but that iceberg lettuce probably doesn’t cut USDA “dark green” standards.

To my surprise lunch came to ~750 calories which is more than I normally eat for lunch and is at the lower end of the USDA lunch caloric requirements. Most of those calories (500) are pure carbs: oatmeal and raisins. In theory I could have added 100 more calories in vegetables (even potatoes- yet more carbs) while remaining within the guidelines. I felt stuffed after this meal, but I ate everything available. Remember kids are throwing away “gross” foods like salad and unsweetened oatmeal, which for this meal would leave barely 250 calories in chicken and dairy. And sure enough I am seeing the “strange combinations” that occur in school lunchrooms. Who eats oatmeal with a chicken cutlet?

To my disappointment by 4pm- only 3 hours after eating- I was ravenously hungry again! This despite eating twice as many calories for lunch as I normally do. High carb, low fat, low protein meals do indeed leave you hungry. While I’m not a low carb person, I do eat much more fat in a typical day than 10% of my calories. I love vegetables slathered in olive oil; I love nuts and peanut butter, and glop copious butter on bread. By this point I was afraid to eat a “school lunch” dinner for fear I’d be famished by bedtime. So I cooked up some roasted mushrooms drenched in olive oil. Ah- that was better!

Thus my observations are the USDA breakfast is too skimpy, and that the more generous lunch is not kid friendly with its dearth of proteins and grains, is too carb heavy (but not due to grains), and woefully lacking in fat and protein. Also it took a while to eat, which is not a bad thing, but you can’t wolf down salad like you would a sandwich. Many children, particularly those in crowded schools (most of NYC) have brief, staggered lunch periods made even briefer standing in line and fending off obnoxious lunchmates. My kids in Catholic school often have barely 20 minutes to eat. Lunch periods should be doubled in school, especially since kids aren’t learning much in the classrooms anyway. You might as well devote that time to healthy eating.


Hard to Live on Eat to Live 2

Since I last blogged about Eat to Live I’ve gone through a transformation of sorts. I accomplished a six week partial fast which I never thought myself capable of doing. I completely swore of desserts and sugar of any kind, which I especially never thought I’d be capable of doing. While my lipoma did shrink about 50% it’s still sitting on my back like an alien spawn– it’s only noticeable without clothes, and even then you have to kind of search for it, but it still bothers me. I’m unwilling to go below BMI 18.5 and I’m at 19 now. I’m not looking to lose weight, but I have been following Eat to Live for health purposes since I ended the fast, or at least I’ve been trying to.

For those of you unfamiliar with Eat to Live, allow me to recap it for you. You are allowed unlimited amounts of raw fruit (no fruit juice or dried fruit), greens (ideally half raw, half cooked without added calories or fat), non-starchy vegetables (like onions and mushrooms) and beans (again, prepared without added fat or calories). You are allowed limited (1 serving each) amounts of starchy foods (whole wheat grains, or potatoes for example) and nuts. If you’re not trying to lose weight, you can have the occasional serving of dairy, lean meat, or egg white. I don’t think anyone would argue that this isn’t a nutrient-rich way to eat, since everything you’ll be consuming is nutrient rich. But it sure is a bland, boring, repetitive way to eat, and I think totally unrealistic for your average american, if even I, a nutrition fanatic, can barely stand it.

Before the fast I could manage 50/50 Eat to Live vs. normal food (like pizza, fruit juice, dessert). Since the fast I can manage about 75/25 in favor of Eat to Live. I can do the four servings of fruit no problem. The pound of greens, the one cup or more of beans. But by the fourth piece of fruit, or the second serving of beans, the thought of more fruit, beans, or greens is a miserable prospect, and I start fantasizing about bagels and jugs of orange juice, both forbidden foods on the Eat to Live plan.

So I don’t know. Sometimes I think the emphasis on quality over quantity of food is overrated. After all, people have lost weight and improved their health on twinkie diets, and that Fat Head guy had great cholesterol levels after a month of bad food from McDonald’s (he didn’t eat the salads). But the common factor in both experiments was that their food intake was strictly limited, and they exercised lightly but regularly– usually just walking.

I’ve thought of doing similar experiments on myself, in fact the partial fast was an experiment of sorts to see if I would indeed suffer ill effects by eating less than the sanctioned 1200 calories a day. I’ve thought of going on a carb-only diet to prove you can lose weight with carbs, but since I’m five pounds from underweight that may not be a good idea.