Category Archives: School foods
While more than 30 million children receive free or reduced-cost meals through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National School Lunch Program during the school year, only about 3 million of those kids sign on for summer meals through the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program, according to agency statistics. While not all 30 million need the summer meals—many are enrolled in summer programs that offer food or have parents that are able to take responsibility for providing meals—USDA and hunger experts know that millions are going hungry each summer, impacting their day-to-day lives, the learning gains of the previous year and learning readiness for the next grade.
“Most of the reason eligible kids aren’t getting meals in the summer is simply because parents don’t know about them,” said Audrey Rowe, head of the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, which runs the meal programs.
Last year, USDA made increasing the number of kids getting summer meals (sites typically serve one meal and a snack or two meals) a top priority, according to a the report Summer Doesn’t Take a Vacation, published by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit aimed at ending child hunger. According to the report, the summer of 2013 marked the first major increase in the number of low-income children eating sponsored summer meals in 10 years, and the program grew last year to serve nearly three million children, an increase of 161,000 children or 5.7 percent from 2012. This represents the largest percentage increase since 2003.
To reach those increases, the USDA worked with organizations including FRAC, Feeding America, Share Our Strength, the YMCA and other national, state and local stakeholders to target states with high rates of poverty, food insecurity and low participation rates in summer food programs. Efforts ran from high-level conversations with state governors—some of whom had known nothing about summer meal programs—to dozens of webinars to teach officials and private partners the nuts and bolts of running the programs. For example, sites are eligible in communities where more than half the area children receive subsidized school meals.
A new report released today examines state standards for the types of snacks that can be sold in secondary schools. The report was developed by the Kids’ Safe & Healthful Foods Project, a joint initiative of RWJF and The Pew Charitable Trusts that is focused on ensuring all foods and beverages in school are healthy and safe.
Some of the findings were discussed earlier this week at a session at the American Public Health Association annual meeting, and the full report is now available online. NewPublicHealth caught up with Jessica Donze Black, the project’s director, to learn more about the report.
NewPublicHealth: You’ve just released a new report about school snacks – what did you find?
Jessica Donze Black: We found that the majority of our nation’s students live in states where less healthy snacks like full-fat chips and candy are readily available in snack bars, school stores and vending machines – but there is limited access to healthy snacks. What students are able to buy varies widely from state to state, with some offering healthy snacks and others primarily providing less-healthy snack options.
The report recommends that the U.S. Department of Agriculture issue consistent, science-based standards to ensure all students have access to healthy snacks at school, regardless of where they live. The standards will establish a baseline that will help local communities make healthy choices when choosing what snacks to offer.
NPH: Have any states had success with offering healthy snack foods in schools?
The Kids Safe & Healthful Foods Project, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, recently posted a Q&A with their director, Jessica Donze Black. The Q&A about new healthy school lunch nutrition guidelines is reposted below.
Q: As the new nutrition guidelines for school meals go into effect, lunches now feature healthier foods and portion sizes. What are the new calorie limits for meals being served in schools?
Jessica Donze Black: The new nutrition guidelines make sure that meals and portions are healthy and “right sized” for kids based on their age. School lunches have always been intended to provide about a third of the recommended daily calories for the average student. Under the new standards, lunches in elementary schools range between 550 and 650 calories, middle school lunches between 600 and 700, and those in high schools have roughly 750 to 850. These numbers allow schools to serve a large variety of filling foods.
Q: Are these enough calories for highly-active students such as athletes?
New Study Quantifies Potential Health Benefits of Oregon Farm-to-School Bill: A Q&A with Tia Henderson, Upstream Public Health
A bill in Oregon that would provide incentives for schools to purchase fresh local food for school meals would also improve the health of the community and create hundreds of new farm-industry jobs over a five- to 10-year period, according to a health impact assessment (HIA) released today by Upstream Public Health in Portland, Oregon.
An HIA identifies the health risks and benefits of a project or policy and then offers solutions to make the community where the project is taking place a healthier place to live, learn, work and play. In this case, Upstream analyzed the potential health benefits and consequences that would result if Oregon HB 2800, Farm-to-School and School Garden Legislation, was enacted as introduced in 2009.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Tia Henderson, Ph.D., research coordinator at Upstream Public Health and co-author of the HIA report, about the study.
NPH: What is Upstream Public Health – and is this your first HIA?
Tia Henderson: Upstream Public Health is a health policy advocacy nonprofit in Portland, Oregon. I have been working on food related research for a few years now, and this was my first health impact assessment.
NPH: Can you explain the legislation on which the HIA was conducted?
Tia Henderson: Oregon's House Bill 2800, if enacted as introduced, provides $19.6 million in reimbursement funds to school districts for buying Oregon food to serve in the federally funded school breakfast and lunch programs. The bill uses dollars from the state’s Economic Development Fund to reimburse school districts 15 cents per lunch and 7 cents per breakfast for buying and serving Oregon food items. It also provides $3 million for a competitive education grant program that school districts can apply to for funding for food, agriculture and nutrition-based activities to help connect the cafeteria to the classroom.
NPH: What were your HIA findings?
Tia Henderson: Our key findings are that House Bill 2800 would create much-needed jobs for Oregonians, help address food security through those new jobs and more students eating school meals, help encourage children's developing healthy eating behaviors, and help children learn better.
NPH: Have you presented your findings to the legislature? If so, what were the results of your testimony and where does the bill stand now?
Tia Henderson: Yes, we presented our findings during a public hearing on March 9th. The sponsors of the bill amended the legislation and incorporated most of our policy recommendations into the amended version. In order to help Oregon's most needy youth, for example, we recommended that the education grants be open to all and that there be criteria to preferentially give funding to school districts serving a low-income student population where at least 40 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced meals. This recommendation was adopted.
Another recommendation was that there be criteria to preferentially give grants to schools with racially diverse populations and to rural or urban areas with limited food access, because some communities of color are disproportionately affected by obesity and chronic diseases, and some areas of Oregon have limited access to resources. [This recommendation was partially adopted].
And we also recommended that education grants be preferentially given to integrated Farm-to-School and School Garden programs where school districts are working to buy local, provide various food, agriculture and nutrition activities, promote local food in the cafeteria and involve the school community in the process. [This recommendation was fully adopted].
The amended version of the bill is now pending.
NPH: Included in the HIA were two community forums. Why were these important, and what were some of the key comments at the forums?
Tia Henderson: We visited Umatilla County in rural Eastern Oregon and the urban area of Lane County in the Willamette Valley. We shared our preliminary findings and recommendations with community members who attended these events and asked them for input.
Most community members felt strongly that this bill should support Oregon jobs as much as possible, that the education grants should be open to any school district that wants to apply, and that existing regional and state organizations should coordinate to help food producers and school districts who want Farm-to-School and School Gardens to succeed.
NPH: Do you think your HIA is a good model that could provide helpful information to other jurisdictions interested in exploring opportunities to solicit increased funding options for school lunches with the same goals – jobs, more fruits and vegetables served during school meals, increased exercise?
Tia Henderson: One of the benefits of this HIA is having much of the research on different health outcomes, including jobs, healthy eating behaviors and education outcomes in one place and discussed in the context of health. The HIA demonstrates to lawmakers how the bill, if introduced as enacted, could affect Oregonians’ health. I do think this would be useful as a guideline for other communities across the country looking into similar, or related, legislation to support farm-to-school efforts. Communities can substitute their own data but the general idea of how it affects jobs, or children's health, is the same.
NPH: What advice would you give to another group that was interested in conducting an HIA?
Tia Henderson: I would say their work will benefit by thinking through what value the HIA could bring to the discussion, and advise them to involve organizations who represent potentially impacted communities as much as resources allow. Our project was strong because we had two advisory committees whose members shared their time and expertise with us. We would not have found as many sources of research, or been able to examine the economic benefits, without these committee members. We feel a great appreciation for all the individuals in Oregon who are working to create farm-to-school and school garden programs on the ground.
Read previous NewPublicHealth.org Q&As with newsmakers and difference makers in public health.