By Diane Stresing
Natalie Borland, freshman, snags a sub sandwich, a cookie, and bottled water in Kent at the Theodore Roosevelt High School lunch line. Her sister, junior Ali Borland, totes a brown bag. Inside are pretzels, a sandwich, and some fruit.
I always pack, she said. Why? The general selection here is not healthy, she said, then reconsidered. Well, some of it is healthy.
Freshman Jenni Ostetrico said she usually eats a sub or salad for lunch, and has a pop or two sometime during the day; ditto for Tara Peterson, and Emily Hart. Eight students sit at this table, and theres not a French fry or ice cream bar in sight even though both are available in the line.
Roosevelt Principal Roger Sidoti said todays students are far more health conscious than their predecessors. He also said that school cafeteria selections are unfairly maligned.
We have a salad bar, we have pizza which, depending on who you talk to, is nutritious and we have French fries. Its up to you what you choose to eat. But you can choose to eat healthy here, says Sidoti.
He points out that on average, bottled water outsells pop in the schools vending machines.
Assistant Principal Arden Sommers agrees that students watch what they eat. He noted that red meat is practically absent from the lunch tables.
When I was in high school, my dad owned a grocery store. I was on the football team. Id come home from practice and have a porterhouse steak for a snack. Then Id have dinner, he said. But while Sommers and Sidoti note red meat and fried foods may be losing favor with their students, they also notice a lack of vegetables on the lunch tables.
Citing recent questions about the validity of the USDA food pyramid and recent studies that suggest a low-carbohydrate, high fat diet might be healthy, Sidoti said, I think we dont know what good nutrition is anymore.
Its tough to eat a balanced diet, said Stephanie Sivak, outpatient dietitian at Robinson Memorial Hospital Nutrition Education Center in Ravenna.
And its especially tough for teens. While some teens have growth spurts throughout high school, others reach physical maturity years before graduation day.
How much fat and how many calories you need is very dependent on a lot of things. Your activity level, stage of growth, and a lot of other things affect your metabolic rate, Sivak said.
A focus on restrictive dieting during the teenage years, Sivak said, can bring on a lifetime of problems. First, theres the emotional effect beginning yo-yo-diet patterns that are ineffective can be frustrating, and that can lead to eating disorders.
There are physical effects, too. Avoiding certain food groups can rob your body of critical nutrients. Any calorie-restrictive plan affects your metabolic rate, she said. Sivak said its time to ask for help when eating habits or weight becomes something that affects daily life, or affects the way you feel.
Regarding lunchtime, Sivak said, Im a big fan of packing. Its the best way to control what goes in your mouth, and the best way to avoid eating French fries three times a week.
Sivak would approve almost entirely of freshman Parker Poroskys daily brown-bag lunch. Whats inside? A sandwich, a banana, and a cookie, he said. This is all I buy, every day, he said, holding a carton of chocolate milk.
Sivak would probably add lettuce or tomato to the sandwich. For healthy eating advice on-line, visit the American Dietetic Web site, www.eatright.org.