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Students have unhealthy diets

By: Tanya Roscorla, Speical to the Telegraph
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A group of Folsom High School boys hung out on a bench near the snack bar during lunch time Wednesday. Junior Riley Stair ate a roast beef sandwich with whole wheat bread, cheese and lettuce along with Sun chips. He finished it off with Top Ramen, which he said he eats a lot of at lunch. So do his friends. “Yeah, dude, I’ve got a (ton) in my backpack,” sophomore Cody James said. Many high school students consume too much fat, sodium and sugar by eating processed foods such as Top Ramen, nutrition experts say. They need to make nutritious food choices to stay healthy. James eats the shrimp- or chicken-flavored Top Ramen almost every day. He adds cold water and the flavoring packet to the raw noodles. He bought lunch at the cafeteria last year, but not this year because the prices increased from $2.50 to $2.75. The Folsom-Cordova Unified School District has been serving more nutritious food on its campuses over the last number of years. School district menus have to meet federal and state nutrition requirements, which include giving kids 1/3 of the calories that they need at lunch time. The staff at Folsom High School and the other district high schools makes everything on site, said Crayton Yelverton, the district food service director. Fruit and milk come with the main dishes, which include pizza, sandwiches and salads. Yelverton tries to buy the highest quality food for the best price with the reimbursements he receives from the government. “It’s great that we’re serving these great nutritious meals, but it doesn’t come for free,” Yelverton said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides 50.6 percent of the funds for the National School Lunch Program meals, while state and local funds make up 8.8 percent and students make up 24.2 percent, according to a USDA report. The district will not receive state funds this fiscal year until the California Legislature passes the budget. Good nutrition starts at home, said Tracy Toms, a registered dietician at Mercy San Juan Medical Center. Kids cannot make healthy food choices if their family buys pop tarts, top ramen and chips instead of fresh fruit or yogurt. Toms recommends that parents take their kids grocery shopping and plan meals with them. Families should plan healthy meals ahead of time and start packing lunch after dinner. A lot of kids consume too much fat, sugar and sodium, but not enough calcium, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, Toms said. Poor nutrition can cause health problems including diabetes and hypertension later in life. “It sometimes takes a real scare for people to make changes,” Toms said. “It’s a real shame that they wait to that point.” Kids should have a variety of foods that include protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and calcium. Nutritious choices for lunch could include whole-grain sandwich bread with chicken breast meat, salami or peanut butter. Bean burritos provide fiber and protein. Breakfast and snack options could include yogurt and a whole-grain bagel; a whole-grain English muffin with peanut butter and a piece of fruit; and cottage cheese, fruit and whole-grain crackers. “The brain needs nutrition to work effectively, and studies show that kids do better in school if they do have a good breakfast,” Toms said. If they do skip meals, they should snack on healthier food instead of filling up on convenience foods, Toms said. While the district provides nutritious food, not everyone eats it. Folsom High junior Jessica Lawson usually eats pizza at the cafeteria, but does not eat the fruit that comes with it. She does munch on an apple once in a while. “I try to eat healthy, except for at school,” Lawson said with a laugh. Back at the bench, Riley Stair said he eats in the cafeteria half the time and brings lunches that his mom makes for him the rest of the time. He does not eat much fruit. Sophomore Zach Jackson does eat fruit with his peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Lays chips and a dessert from the snack bar. He said that the snack bar run by the student government used to sell a lot of good items such as soda and soft-serve ice cream, but now they have healthier stuff. The food that the snack bar offers has to meet government nutrition guidelines, Yelverton said. Baked chips and granola bars are not well-rounded foods, but they meet the guidelines. “I’m not very popular,” Yelverton said. “We’re trying to change the culture, and it’s a slow process.” As the boys finished their lunch, sophomore Asher Elswick said he knows that eating Pop Tarts all day is not healthy, but he does it anyway. His parents do not have time to make him lunch in the morning, and he does not want to make his own. He sometimes buys energy bars and tries to satisfy his stomach at dinner by eating a lot of pot stickers. Elswick said Pop Tarts are the best thing ever. “Yeah, we call him the pop tart king,” Cody James said.