Thursday, December 4, 2014

Health Care and School Lunches

Do you remember those school days in the cafeteria when you were going through the lunch line? How about the lunch ladies with their hair nets, and big metal spoons they used to slop the slop? And what about “Mystery Meat Thursday”? Do you have flashbacks when you go into a restaurant that has self serve buffet lines?

These kinds of memories are shared by millions of people who at one time or another experienced eating lunch in a school lunch room, and only the lucky kids who brought their sack lunches were fortunate enough to avoid seeing chicken spaghetti with sauce as heavy as silicon morter thrown onto their tray at least once a week.

The school lunch program in schools across the country has long been a joke that keeps on giving. However, it has suffered some changes, and is still a source of contention with school districts, parents and kids, and the federal government. This month, according to Farm Futures Magazine, the USDA has renewed efforts to connect school cafeterias with local farmers and ranchers through its Farm to School Program. The program helps schools buy more food from local farmers and ranchers in their communities, expanding access to healthy local food for school children and supporting local economies.

The Secretary of Agriculture stated: "These inspiring collaborations provide students with healthy, fresh food, while supporting healthy local economies. Through farm to school projects, community partners are coming together to ensure a bright future for students, and for local farmers and ranchers." Much more information about this initiative can be found at this website: http://farmfutures.com/story-usda-pushes-more-local-food-school-lunches-0-121067 . 

Since the 1940’s schools have been providing federally assisted school meal programs. The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. The program was established under the National School Lunch Act, signed by President Harry Truman in 1946, according to the USDA. More feedback about this aspect of school nutrition can be found at this site: http://www.fns.usda.gov/nslp/national-school-lunch-program-nslp .

According to FRAC, the Food Research and Action Center, the NSLP provides per meal cash reimbursements to schools as an entitlement to provide nutritious meals to children. This means that all eligible schools can participate and all children attending those schools can participate. Schools participating in NSLP also receive agricultural commodities (unprocessed or partially processed foods) as a supplement to the per-meal cash reimbursements, in amounts based on the number of lunches they serve. USDA research indicates that children who participate in the NSLP have superior nutritional intakes compared to those who do not participate. 

The National School Lunch Program provides school children with one-third or more of their Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for key nutrients. These lunches are required to provide no more than 30 percent of calories from fat and less than 10 percent from saturated fat. Every school district that participates in the National School Lunch Program was required to enact a local school wellness policy, an opportunity to address obesity and promote healthy eating and physical activity through changes in school environments. More details are available at this site: http://frac.org/federal-foodnutrition-programs/national-school-lunch-program/ . 

Additionally, the Food and Nutrition Service administers several programs that provide healthy food to children including the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, the Summer Food Service Program, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, and the Special Milk Program. Administered by State agencies, each of these programs helps fight hunger and obesity by reimbursing organizations such as schools, child care centers, and after-school programs for providing healthy meals to children.

Details about this expanded food program is available at this website: http://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/child-nutrition-programs . And, for a more exhaustive amount of background material on all school food programs administered by the government, you can see that at this site: http://www.nutrition.gov/food-assistance-programs/school-lunch-and-breakfast-programs .

According to the New America Foundation, the National School Lunch Program supports student nutrition in over 101,000 schools and residential facilities. It provides free and reduced priced meals to low-income children before school, during school, after school, and over the summer. In fiscal year 2013, federal school nutrition programs underwrote more than five billion lunches served. Total funding for all nutrition programs sums to $16.3 billion in both cash and commodity payments in fiscal year 2014. To find more detailed info on this topic, visit this website: http://febp.newamerica.net/background-analysis/federal-school-nutrition-programs .

However, according to Breitbart, the National School Lunch Program feeds upwards to 31 million American students a day, spending nearly $12 billion annually; but many of those children are throwing away the vegetables, fruits, and snacks forced on them by the new federal nutrition standards. The government's new school lunch requirements championed by First Lady Michelle Obama are wasting $4 million a day in discarded food that children won't eat.

A new Harvard study of the program, "shows that 60 percent of fresh vegetables and 40 percent of fresh fruit are being thrown away." And a recent study released by the National School Nutrition Association found 81.2 percent of schools surveyed indicated an increase in the amount of food being thrown away by students since the new nutrition standards went into effect two years ago.
Nearly 600 school districts have already dropped out of the First Lady's lunch program. That’s a lot of food and tax dollars being wasted. More details on this issue can be found at this site: http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2014/09/18/Michelle-Obama-s-School-Lunch-Program-Wastes-Millions .

Is there light at the end of the checkout line? Perhaps, but innovation is slow to be adopted, unless the government mandates it. There are other options, though. One company is already making a difference—OrderLunches.com. The company was created in 2006 to replace the complicated task of organizing and managing school lunch programs. Schools can now eliminate the endless hours spent managing paper processes or using other online systems that simply just don’t work. Busy parents get to pre-order their kids meals, know what they’re eating at school and get rid of the morning chaos.

Helping schools nationwide connect with local restaurants, caterers or on-site cooks to build strong partnerships that keep kids healthy & parents happy is the mission of this company. More details about this resource is available at this website: http://www.orderlunches.com/how-it-works/ .

Do school lunch programs work? Yes, for the most part. However, figuring out the secret sauce to avoid waste and still provide nutritious food at an affordable price is a huge challenge. Kids will be kids, though. If they don’t like it, they won’t eat it. The best option is to continue to find ways to help children and teens eat healthy food. That is a big part of the education process. Perhaps schools can sneak that curriculum in somewhere between home economics and gym class. 

Until next time.

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