Let’s Talk About Kids
I’ve spent most of the past month at Manna learning how to manage our Smart Sacks’ program, that is, our weekend food assistance program for children experiencing hunger in Montgomery County schools. Currently, we partner with 56 schools in the county and distribute just over 2,000 bags of food to students who would benefit from some supplemental nourishment when school-provided breakfast and lunch aren’t an option. Designed with kids in mind, the Smart Sacks menu contains, for the most part, ready-to-eat items in individual serving sizes that are made to appeal to a child’s eye. Though tasty and easy to prepare many of these foods are not as kid-friendly as they might seem. Behind the bright colors, silly cartoon characters, and eye-catching shapes hide many ingredients that are not healthy for the growing bodies and minds of our youngest community members.
Trans fats and artificial food colorings and flavors have all been associated with negative health outcomes. Even some of the foods that seem healthful like instant oatmeal, milk and peanut butter are not so beneficial if they are flavored varieties that contain many grams of added sugar or even a few grams of hydrogenated oils per serving. A piping hot bowl of maple and brown sugar oatmeal for breakfast may be better than going to school on an empty stomach but its 3 teaspoons of added sugar are the maximum amount recommended for a child for an entire day!
I don’t want to undermine the value of our Smart Sacks program and similar efforts around the country to feed children who may otherwise have little to eat over the weekend not the countless hours of volunteer time Manna’s partners and school counselors contribute to make this program run effectively. I do believe we can do better for our kids. For the next school term, Manna’s Smart Sacks menu is going to change to include nutritious foods in family-friendly sizes. Bags of brown rice, dried beans, canned (and in some case fresh) vegetables and fruits will accompany natural peanut butters, unflavored milk and plain oatmeal. We’ll keep some of the healthier treats that kids expect like granola bars and include the occasional box of whole grain macaroni and cheese.
The Karen Goldberg Smart Sacks program was created to provide Montgomery County students with the nourishment they need to support a healthy and productive school week. With these upcoming changes, I hope that we will improve our ability to do just that.
-Jenna Umbriac, Director of Nutrition Programs