This week I have spent my days at the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) learning about the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the Healthier US Schools Challenge and USDA Foods among other state and federal programs. It has been a whirlwind week including a tour of US Foods which holds the Arizona contract for all USDA foods, attending a workshop to help NSLP sponsors submit mandated reports and lots of Q&A sessions with the subgroups of the ADE’s Health and Nutrition Services Department.
I have many friends in education but my first-hand experience with school foods ended over 10 years ago – long before many of the current recommendations were in place. However I have seen the news stories and opinion pieces in newspapers that turned school lunch into a battlefield. This past week has truly shed light on myth versus reality in the school lunch realm and I’m sure the enlightenment will continue as I head into my school food service rotation beginning on Monday.
For those of you who maybe haven’t delved into the world of school lunch let me give you a quick run down on the major points of the program. The Healthy Hunger Free Kid Act of 2010 (HHFKA) is a law aimed at funding child nutrition programs in the US. It has been quite controversial as it imposes guidelines on the meals, foods and beverages served at schools in the US. It also funds the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program (SBP) which are intended to support child health and nutrition by providing balanced and nutritious meals in schools. This is incredibly important in Arizona as one in three Arizona children face hunger and live in poverty – which is one in three too many. Across the country the NSLP dishes out over 30 million lunches and the SBP serves over 13 million breakfasts each day. While that doesn’t solve all of the poverty issues our nation’s children are facing, it is a wonderful resource for families and communities to try and bridge the gap.
So what if you’re like me and you’re memory of the school cafeteria is something like this?
No fear – I will get you up to speed. School lunches are getting a facelift. As part of HHFKA and other past initiatives the new guidelines for school meals include:
– calorie limits per meal imposed based on the average meals offered for the week
– children must take items from at least three food groups, including at least one fruit or vegetable, in order for the school to be reimbursed
– juice limits are imposed by how much can be offered to students weekly
– schools must offer a variety of vegetables each week according to the USDA breakdown which includes dark green, red/orange, starchy, legumes and other
With all the bad press about school lunch I think we are missing out on the awesome things schools are doing like the school tray above demonstrates. I know very few people who would turn that lunch down or think it was unhealthy – and it’s beautiful!
As a kid I typically brought my lunch but was always curious about the school lunch. Many students consume more than half of their daily calories at school – what we offer them should be healthy and introduce them to new foods. Seeing what schools are turning out these days makes me feel more confident about recommending cafeteria lunch for children. Especially because it is such an affordable option!
Want to read more before making your decision? Here are some great (reliable) sources to help in your research: