Its time to eat right

Last month, the contestants of the television program “Top Chef” took on a challenge that shed light on the highly publicized problem of American public-school lunches. In the challenge, each team had to create a healthy, savory meal on a public-school budget of $2.68 per child, and members of every team found themselves struggling to create an acceptable menu with this tight budget.

If creating a successful menu for public-school lunches is a formidable task for innovative, trained professionals, then clearly American public schools are going to need some assistance in warding off cheap, unhealthy meals for good.

Many public schools have made flagrant errors by making fatty foods readily accessible, thus reinforcing bad dietary habits. According to a 2007 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of public high schools, only 18 percent sell fruits or vegetables on campus while 77 percent give students access to machines that sell soda and artificial fruit drinks. With this in mind, it is no surprise that nearly one-third of American children are considered obese or overweight.

Congress appears to be taking baby steps in addressing the issue with the Hunger-Free Kids Act, which is currently under consideration. The June 5 edition of The Economist reported that the bill calls for a $4.5 billion increase for school lunches during the next 10 years.

The increase falls short of President Barack Obama’s hopes of having a yearly $10 billion school-lunch budget for that time frame. First lady Michelle Obama is taking an active stance on the issue by championing the “Let’s Move” campaign, which asks advocates’ supporters to write to Congress demanding a $1 increase per student, 100 percent of which would be used for school lunches.

At the University of Texas, the school’s housing and food services division has worked to create healthier meal options. Unfortunately, the unhealthy options are still selling at alarming rates. According to the university’s housing and food services website, pizza is the most popular food sold by campus vendors. College students are always looking to save money, so cheap, quick meal options are understandably appealing.

One way for students to save money and to eat healthier foods at the same time is to create a cooking co-op with friends or neighbors. Groups can agree on recipes in advance, and each day a different person would be in charge of cooking for the group. By having each day’s meals planned ahead and cooked in bulk, students can share good eating habits and great savings.

If the right measures are taken, eating healthy and inexpensively is possible – even for busy, budget-minded college students.

More than 60 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. By fostering healthier eating habits within the school system and encouraging students to make smarter decisions when cooking, one can hope that eating healthy will become a widespread lifestyle choice among Americans.