In National Nutrition Month, focus on infant feeding options

March is National Nutrition Month, an opportunity to bring attention to the importance of making informed food choices and developing healthy eating and physical activity habits.

As a nutritionist for Blessings in a Backpack, infant nutrition is a particular concern for me.

Blessings in a Backpack is a non-profit organization that mobilizes communities, individuals and resources to provide food on weekends to elementary school children who might otherwise go hungry.

Here in Central Florida, it’s estimated that one in five children leaves school on Friday afternoon and doesn’t have food again until they return to school on Monday morning. Filling the 65-hour gap in weekend meals to ensure children have the nutrition they need so they can arrive at school on Monday morning nourished and ready to learn.

We make it a priority to provide meals that meet the school nutrition guidelines set by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

In February 2023, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) developed updated nutritional standards based on feedback from school nutrition professionals, public health and nutrition experts, and parents.

Using the feedback, FNS is now proposing a phased, multi-year approach to implementing some important updates to nutrition standards to support healthy children in an achievable and sustainable way. These include:

  • Limit added sugars in certain high-sugar products and later on the weekly menu
  • Allowing flavored milk under certain circumstances and with reasonable limits on added sugars
  • Gradually reducing weekly sodium limits over many school years
  • Emphasizing products that are primarily whole grains, with the option of occasional non-whole grain products.

The urgency of prioritizing nutrition in school lunches is more important than ever.

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Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates have tripled. Today, one in five children in the United States is overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In 2021, more than 32% of Florida middle and high school students reported being overweight or obese, according to the Florida Health Charts.

Behaviors that influence being overweight include eating high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and beverages, sleep routines, and lack of physical activity.

These children are at greater risk for asthma, sleep apnea, bone and joint problems, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. In addition, children with obesity are more likely to experience bullying, depression and low self-esteem.

As parents, school administrators and community organizations working with children, we must do everything we can to ensure that all children have access to quality, nutritious food.

Whether it’s introducing a child in your sphere of influence to a new healthy eating option or donating nutritious snacks to food banks or local organizations, each of us can contribute to promoting healthy eating while helping to reduce cases. of food insecurity in our community.

Heather Dambrosi is Vice President of Food Solutions for Blessings in a Backpack, which helps feed more than 5,600 children in 42 schools every weekend in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties. She spent 15 years in the Hillsborough County Public Schools as leader of the Nutrition and Production Team.

In National Nutrition Month, focus on infant feeding options

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