The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

April 10, 2013

Professor lauds state’s effort at healthy meals for kids

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — A New York professor and expert in providing nutrition for America’s school children applauded West Virginia’s effort Tuesday to provide healthy meals to poverty-ridden families.

Janet Poppendieck, a sociology professor at Hunter College, City University of New York, told a special Senate committee this state should be proud that it stands alone in not offering food items a la carte in the cafeteria, since that opens the gates for non-nutritional snacks.

“You have the cafeterias selling chips and Rice Krispie Treats, you name it, in order to raise money for the cafeterias,” she said of a practice that is predominant across the country.

By offering such choices, she told the Select Committee on Children and Poverty, the children tend to skip the healthier foods and pick the snacks.

“That’s nutrition disaster and it typically happens to more affluent children because you can’t get that stuff for free,” Poppendieck said.

“Secondly, the kids with little money buy one of those things. They take federally subsidized and reimbursed meals to their plate, look at the unfamiliar vegetables and eat the Rice Krispies Treat first.”

She told the senators that although vending machines are still found in West Virginia schools, the cafeterias don’t sell other items to compete with the regular meals.

“This is a huge plus,” the professor said.

Poppendieck said the state can be proud on some other fronts, including its decision to serve green vegetables.

“You’ve been serving more colorful meals,” she said.

Moreover, she pointed out that 366 of the 695 schools across the state offer salad bars.

“All across the country, you see that salad bars are the efficient, culturally welcome way to get kids to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables,” the professor said.

Already, the Senate has passed special legislation that could accelerate the breakfast and lunch program so West Virginia would be the first state to offer both meals to all school children.

The idea is to get charitable donations from a variety of sources to complement the food program.

“If I could tweak your legislation, I would put something in there about using funds that you raise from donation entities to sponsor salad bars that require new equipment,” Poppendieck said.

Another complaint she had is that children are bombarded with “hundreds of hours of advertising,” either on the Internet or Saturday morning cartoon fare on television, promoting unhealthy fare.

“We have set up in this country a situation where our school food service departments are selling food to children and that basically puts advertisers in charge,” she said.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com