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Protest for healthier meals at after-school program
By DANIELLE ZIRI
01/01/2013
Parents, children, educators and nutritionists hold a vigil against unhealthy lunches served at after-school program.
 
Dozens of parents, children, educators and nutritionists held a vigil in Jerusalem on Monday to protest against unhealthy lunches children between the ages of three and nine are served everyday at after-school programs.

The event was organized by members of “Meal 10,” a forum for parents advocating for a healthy diet in schools.

They gathered outside the Education Ministry and distributed unhealthy food from after-school programs to officials to “illustrate to them the importance of the problem of nutrition in the education system.”

“Our children today eat a different diet than we used to when we were young,” Jerusalem City Council member and head of the Meal 10 movement Rachel Azaria said.

“I remember going home for lunch, and eating a fresh and nutritious meal that one of my parents cooked.

Nowadays both parents work longer hours, and our kids eat their lunch at after-school programs,” she said.

Much of what children are served in those programs is “industrial food” loaded with carbohydrates, processed meat and salt, Azaria said. They are also given very few vegetables and fresh products, she said.

“For most kids, the meal they eat at the after-school program is their main meal, and it must be nutritious and healthy,” she continued.

“The Education Ministry has an opportunity now to change the food our children eat, and help them develop healthy eating habits.”

Azaria said her organization’s goal is “to change the mindset of ministry officials, who today think their role is only to make sure the food is cheap and tasty.”

Over the past week, Meal 10 gathered more than 1,200 signatures on a petition written to this end, which will be presented to Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar. The group’s members are also active on Facebook, where they launched a page dedicated to the issue.

“Parents try to teach a certain healthy routine to their kids at home. It’s important that the authorities pitch in to this and for our efforts to be coordinated,” nutritionist Hila Elyashar-Earon told The Jerusalem Post “Research shows that an overweight child is likely to become an overweight adult,” she continued.

“They can also suffer from weight-related diseases which will follow them for the rest of their lives even if they undergo weight loss.”

These diseases, Elyashar- Earon said, include heart problems, diabetes, high blood pressure and orthopedic issues. Beyond the physical harm, the child can suffer from lifelong psychological and mental consequences such as negative body image and a lack of self-confidence.

“I’d like to see more fresh vegetables for example. And instead of chicken it would be good to serve them some turkey, or beef, which can also help with their concentration,” she added.

The ministry said it employs food services operators for the after-school programs using “a policy for healthy, cohesive menus which are in accordance with the Ministry of Health’s guidelines.

“In some cases, the provider acted against our criteria, and when we find products which do not meet our standards, they are taken out of the menu,” the ministry said.
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