USDA’s Standards for Meals- How They Are Not Healthy Choices

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Everyone remembers the food pyramid- the hottest nutritional information in the time of the 80s through early 2000s, which says that we need 6-11 daily servings of grains… which is the first and biggest mistake, but also likely because of who the USDA partners with for their food/nutrition campaigns….

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And the newest thing- “MyPlate”, which is a better representation of the amount of servings of different things except that milk isn’t necessary and it’s not realistic to have each of those food categories per meal, though it is definitely utopian.

With these infographics in mind, it makes sense then that the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) is in control of our food supply and popular opinion on what’s healthy or not. They are also the ones who mandate the standards for food served in licensed daycares (homes and centers). The meals and snacks must meet the USDA’s standards in order for these types of providers to get reimbursement for the food they serve (called “The Food Program”, also called “CACFP”). The USDA has a very high reputation of doling out safe advice, healthy tips, and nutritiously-sound advice… or so we all thought.

In high schools, the USDA has a standard of 1/4 cup of a fruit or vegetable per meal and each meal must have 600 calories to “pass” their test. A healthy meal composed of a side salad with dressing, a small sandwich with some meat on it (maybe tuna or lunchmeat), some veggies on the side, a yogurt, and water does not pass the USDA’s “test” for school lunches because it has a deficit in calories. However, a lunch of 1-2 slices of pizza, milk, and french fries will pass because the ketchup and pizza sauce count as a “vegetable” according to them and there’s more than 600 calories (Fed Up, 2014). Why would such a thing get passed ? It’s because it’s cheaper to buy low-cost, subsidized, pre-made food and reheat it in the microwave or oven than to hire someone to cook healthy meals.

The food industry is dominated by advertising, marketing, and persuading of television-watchers to buy their product. Children are highly targeted by marketers because they have a strong influence on what their parents buy. Children cannot differentiate a commercial from the main programming. With such colorful, fun, and exciting ads, children get drawn into the appeal of such experiences, toys, or things to do. The food industry knows this and uses it to its advantage.

The USDA’s approved meal reimbursement program for licensed daycare homes and centers is below par, according to my standards. Most meals that I see providers have listed include nothing but processed meats, pre-made foods, some even have pre-cooked foods too ! Most of them serve milk at meals (or juice) and they’re required to have some whole grains in the day as well. There’s nothing wrong with whole grains, but the focus for children’s diets (referring here to “what a person eats”) should be on fruits, vegetables, water, and protein (meat- or plant-based). A child has no need to drink milk once they are weaned from either formula or breastmilk. Cow’s milk is meant for calves, not humans.

If you feed a child under 1 cow’s milk, you can severely damage their body’s functioning because cow’s milk is designed for calves, just like human mother’s milk is designed for a human baby. The fat content isn’t right, the calories aren’t right, and it’s just not the sensible thing to feed them (being healthy isn’t about calories or fat content, but for babies these nutritional values are VERY important). Not only that but it’s strongly advised against for a child under 1 to drink milk. So why then does the USDA advocate drinking milk once a child has been weaned from its mother ? Why do they require milk (or juice !) to be served at meals ?

It’s a hard question to answer without writing a novel, but the main reason is money. They want you to drink milk to be a part of the system. They claim that the calcium “helps strong bones” but in cases of older women with osteoporosis who were given calcium supplements or ate more calcium, their condition WORSENED because their body needed to remove more bone tissue in order to process the milk. So if it’s not calcium that makes bones strong, what is it ? In other countries like India where milk is never a beverage for the children, their bones are quite healthy. The true key to healthy, strong bones is physical activity. It gets the blood flowing, it keeps the body limber and in shape, and by moving the body you strengthen your bones as well.

The idea of fruit juice being healthy is a myth that’s been circulating for many years. The reason people think it’s healthy is because it’s from fruit ! Which is healthy, right ?! But the thing that’s missing from the fruit when you drink fruit JUICE is the flesh of the fruit. The pulp, the fiber, the chew. When you ingest fruit juice (whether it’s 100% juice or not), your body treats it as if it were a soda. It goes straight through your stomach and immediately into your bloodstream, shooting up your blood sugar. If you were to eat some fruit with the same juice equivalent, your body would get the fiber and the other nutrients as well as the juice contained in the fruit and it would be a slow release into your body.

Cereal is another food that is deemed as healthy when it’s really just like sending your kid off to school with a bag of sugar. Let alone if you serve cereal with some orange juice- no wonder Johnny can’t focus in school ! He’s loaded up on sugar from breakfast ! Most things that are partially or wholly “ready-made” are not good choices unless it came from the ground, a tree, or a plant directly. Things like cereal, pop tarts, muffins, fruit juices, etc have all been at least 1 step removed from their “parent food” or from the “whole food” that they once were. These processed foods usually contain little nutrition, high chemical content, sometimes have fake sugars that are carcinogens (like aspartame, splenda, nutrisweet, etc), trans fats, and don’t keep you full for long. I know if I eat a bowl of cereal that I’ll be hungry again in 2 hours but if I eat a toasted whole grain english muffin with avocado spread and hard-boiled eggs, I’m good for a while before I get hungry again.

The USDA has milk, fruit juice, whole grains, and low-quality meat/side standards for child care providers that are licensed (centers or homes). It is for this reason that I refuse to part take in the reimbursement food program that the government offers. I believe in quality food and cooking from scratch. I don’t think children should drink milk or juice or soda if they are thirsty. One of the best habits a child can get into is to drink water when they are thirsty. It’s calorie-free, cleanses toxins from the body, hydrates, makes skin look younger and more supple, freshens, curbs or reduces hunger so less is eaten at a meal, and tastes great !

We get Zephyrhills 5-gallon jugs delivered once a month to our home and for as long as we keep getting deliveries, they supply us with an upright jug “cooler” for us to use. It chills the water as it’s in there and then we can refill our reusable water bottles and bring them out with us. We love spring water and there are many other options for this. Many stores sell the upright jug cooler part for $100-$150 and each 5-gallon jug of water will be anywhere from $5-$10 each. Not only are you saving on plastic waste (from not buying a million water bottles), but you’ll be drinking healthy, natural water. I avoid getting fluoridated whenever possible.  ;]

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