What’s Really in Your Lunch?

According to the CDC the childhood obesity rate has quadrupled in adolescents in the last thirty years. Americans have access to hundreds of thousands of different supermarkets and stores. There are endless options of different food choices people can buy. All of which contain healthy options, yet the problem of growing obesity still remains. In 2012, over one third of children and adolescents are overweight in the United States according to the CDC. It is known that more people are likely to buy the unhealthier option, due to lower costs and convenience. Over 70 percent of the packaged food in grocery stores is highly processed and contains excessive amounts of sugar. At Thornton Academy, I found similar results. I photographed the lunches of ten students, and recorded their responses on why they were eating what they had chosen. Then I went to the source, to find where and what the food in the cafeteria is from, and what it means for students.

unnamed-3According to nutritionist, Lisa Prince, teenagers today rarely get the daily nutrients they need. She has found that teenagers hardly eat any fruits and vegetables a day. Maybe one or two servings. When really they should be eating between five to thirteen servings of fruits and vegetables a day according to the healthy eating guidelines released by the USDA. Prince has found that teens often consume extremely high amounts of added sugars and excessive amounts of calories than adolescents should be consuming. This is often due to snacks and popular drinks.

Teenagers choose drinks with their meals that are far less healthy than they assume. Such as energy drinks, teas, lemonades, and even juices. The three most popular drinks students purchase at Thornton are Iced Tea, Gatorade, and Lemonade. Fruit juices often contain around 35-35 grams of sugar according to the Livestrong website. Gatorade flavors have between 25-35 grams of sugar. Compared to the average 20-30 grams of sugar teenagers should consume in one entire day, assuming this is not added sugar as well. Unknown to many, these juices and sports drinks could be just as bad for you as soda. And while some of the drinks are unhealthy, I found that water and milk are just purchased by students just as much as the teas and sports drinks. The school goes through over 100 cases of water a week.

I visited the Cafeteria at Thornton Academy next to find out what is in the food students consume almost every single day. Some of the same food options are always available in addition to the meals that change every day. Things such as french fries, chicken nuggets, pizza, hamburgers or cheeseburgers, cookies, and chips are the most popular among students. Fried or sugary foods end up being what most teens consume. They taste the best and are the cheapest.

lunch photo 1After learning more about the dining program at the school, I was surprised. I spoke to Gevin Boland, who is the food director of the dining program. I discovered that some of the most popular items Thornton students consume are not as unhealthy as they seem.  Chicken nuggets only have 190 calories and 9 grams of fat. A lot of the products come from Sysco, a company that is natural and organic. They use no antibiotics or pesticides. So very few of the food items arrive frozen, all of the food and meals are made by the staff every morning. Everything is fresh. The dining program spends $25,000 a week to buy and ship these groceries. While the meal choices at Thornton may not have all of the adequate nutrients adolescent diets require, they are not necessarily contributing to health and weight issues students might have as a result of poor nutrition. The following slideshow shows the meals some students have chosen on a given day, along with a quote about why they’re eating what they’re eating.

So the problem may not be the nutritional value of the food, but the cost. After speaking to many students it seemed that the cost of the cafeteria food was the biggest issue. One student said, “I usually get fries. I know what I eat isn’t that healthy, but a lot of the healthier things I don’t like or they’re too expensive.”

Only 300 students receive free lunch out of the 1630 students that eat at Thornton every day. Boland explained the high cost of the meals was because the dining program uses fresh, natural foods. So while the higher price may seem overpriced or ridiculous, know you’re paying for the quality of the food.

While many teens are not conscientious of what they’re stuffing their mouths full of, maybe knowing what’s in their meals might help influence their choice. Even though the food is fresh and not necessarily bad for you, it isn’t good to eat three cartons of french fries either. If more students knew what they were consuming, such as how many calories and the sugar in their food and drinks, they could choose other options available to them, or not eat as much of something.

There are many ways to try to remedy adolescent diets and their choices, but in the end it is the choice only that person makes. Consider what you are putting into your body whether it is the best option available to you.

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