Lunchroom Nutrition: What's Your School's Calorie Quotient?

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School meals account for about one-third (or more) of a child’s daily energy requirements. Kids should also expend about 50% of their daily energy while at school. So, how do the programs at your child’s school measure up?


“Comparing the amount and type of food available for your child to consume versus the opportunity for physical activity is a way to determine your school’s calorie quotient [CQ],” says Joseph Cifelli, EdD, an assistant professor of education at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “Increasingly, schools are implementing innovative programs focused on improving student nutrition. Often, it’s parents who initiate such changes.”

“It’s a simple formula,” he adds. “Lots of high-saturated-fat and high-sugar foods like soda, pizza, hot dogs, fries and candy over minimal physical activity equals a high potential to put more kids at risk for obesity.”

Curriculum must also be considered.

“It’s ironic,” Dr. Cifelli says. “School officials want higher achievement on standardized tests, so they minimize nontested disciplines like science, health and physical education—while study after study links nutrition and physical activity with school performance.”

His research shows that kids who have a good understanding of food energy are able to make more healthful meal choices. Parents should also check schools’ CQ on parent-teacher nights, he urges.

For tips on organic lunches, check out our new feature story, Back to School: 4 Tips for Organic Families.

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