An infographic put together by Good Magazine makes for a startling look into what constitutes a meal in America’s schools. It turns out that prison meals are often more nutritionally complete than the food served up in school cafeterias.
Feeding the nation’s prisoners and students costs about the same—approximately $2.60 per person per day—and each meal contains the same number of calories (about 1400), but this is where the similarities end. Prison meals are more varied, each being made up of, on average, one meat item, one starch item, one bread item, one serving of vegetables, one serving of fruit or dessert, and one beverage. School cafeteria meals, on the other hand, are more limited, with one bread item, one starch item, one serving of fruit or vegetables, and one drink. The ratio of 6:4 meal items means prisoners get more bang for their buck in the food department; meals cost the same but are more nutritious and wholesome than the fare given to students.
Not only are students not getting a meat item most of the time, but they are given less vegetables and fruit than prisoners. And when they do receive meat as part of their meal, it is substandard in quality; in fact, fast food chains like Burger King and McDonald’s pass their ground beef through much more rigorous standard testing than the USDA’s testing of meat offered in schools. As if that weren’t enough, less than a third of school food operations meet the recommended levels of saturated fat in the meals they serve.
The difference in meals is alarming considering that the gap between annual budgets for the two institutions is so large; the 2009 federal budget for prison food is a paltry $205 million to the annual federal budget for school food programs’ astonishing $11 billion. Where is this money going? It certainly isn’t feeding the nation’s young.
Whether school or prison, institutions tend to use the same mass distributors, which means that food served in a school often comes from the same source feeding a prison population. Logic dictates that the foods of the two institutions should be nutritionally similar; but for some reason, that is not the case. And as one investigation showed, schools are sometimes guilty of serving long-expired food to their own students. All of this raises questions about the priorities of America’s schools; clearly, they are not doing their job in feeding students.
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