Posted on July 21st, 2011 No comments
The USDA just released its first report on the farm to school initiative and found that, even though the program is expanding nationwide, there are still many challenges in establishing a market between local farms and schools. The report found that local districts were excited to connect their schools to local farms but problems arose in terms of supply and storage. For one, school food service providers didn’t expect farms to replace their existing chains. Schools also can’t store raw or fresh foods for a prolonged period of time, they’re more used to handling precooked meals. The seasonality of foods also presents a challenge as many foods, such as tomatoes and squash, grow in the summer when school’s out but farmers are working on ways to make these items available during the school year.
The report also focused on education and teaching kids about where foods come from and how to eat healthy. Schools in Rhode Island, for example, have trading cards that showcase farmers and what they grow. At a school in Oklahoma, a phys ed teacher is using music and dance to teach kids about healthy foods. The USDA sees this educational aspect as an important tandem to bringing local food to schools by teaching kids where their food comes from.
“I think it’s really important for kids to get reconnected to agriculture,” Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, says. “Too many Americans are far removed from how their food is produced, and by whom, and they have a lot of questions.”
The farm to school movement will get a nice boost next year when the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act will provide additional funding for farm to school grants. For the full article on Food Safety News, click here.
Posted on May 5th, 2011 No comments
Make room for those carrots and potatoes from your local farm! The USDA recently introduced rules to encourage schools to work with local farms in order to provide more fresh produce and veggies during school meals. With the new rules, schools can give local providers preference when they bid for meal contracts. Local farms can provide “unprocessed” foods, which can be frozen, peeled or sliced but are not doused with preservatives.
This is all part of the bigger issue to curtail childhood obesity, spearheaded by the recently passed Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act, but one major obstacle in the endeavor is to get kids to actually eat the healthier options. Alice Waters, founder of the Edible Schoolyard program, notes:
We should certainly try to improve diets by make school lunches more nutritious and by getting the vending machines out of the hallways. But we can’t be sure that kids are even eating — let alone understanding — what nourishment is all about. Kids are wary of unfamiliar foods, besides they can always buy packaged junk before and after school.”
The key is to make healthy foods fun and exciting for kids and introduce nutrition education programs that will help with an early start on better eating. The new rule, though, is definitely a step in the right direction in the ongoing battle against obesity. For the NPR article on the rule, click here.
Posted on March 3rd, 2011 No comments
Food Safety News had an interesting piece earlier this week on how to get students at school to eat more of the healthy options offered. As more schools across the country meet and even surpass federal nutrition requirements, the question arises as to how to get kids to eat these nutritious options in the face of pizza, fries and other fast food options. Well, it seems lunch providers across the county have some pretty creative ways to make healthier options more desirable. For example, Oceanside School District in California packages food under its own brand and makes it look like popular commercial food, like pizza with low-fat cheese and whole grain crust which is bleached white.
Other schools, like districts in Washington, get feedback from students themselves as to what they’d like to see on menus. Tom French, a chef who runs a nonprofit that helps schools to cook from scratch, says:
“With the older kids, you really have to market to them. We take suggestions, we have focus groups, we have tasting groups. Because you can either take it or not.”
Another approach used at schools is to offer food repeatedly until students become familiar with it. For more on these and other ways schools are getting kids to eat healthy, you can check out the full story here.
Posted on January 13th, 2011 No comments
A recent AP article talks about the Department of Agriculture’s efforts to better school lunches by implementing new meal guidelines that will add more whole grains, fruits and vegetables. These changes will apply to meals subsidized by the federal government and will also require schools to cut sodium in meals by half and serve low fat milk. This announcement comes a few weeks after President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which helps schools pay for healthier meal options. Some of the points of the proposal include:
- Establishing the first calorie limits in school meals.
- Banning most trans fats.
- Incrementally increasing the amount of whole grains required with the goal of having all grains be whole grains.
- Improving breakfasts by having schools serve a grain and protein.
Some critics say it will be hard-pressed for schools, already strapped for cash, to pay for these new measures, but Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says these items are necessary in order to curtail the rise of obesity in the nation’s kids. Said Vilsack:
If we don’t contain obesity in this country it’s going to eat us alive in terms of health care costs.
Click the link above for more on the USDA proposal.
Posted on December 30th, 2010 No comments
Happy Holidays! We came upon this insightful article on Chef Tim Cipriano, the executive director of Food Services for the New Haven, CT school system. It talks about how he gets kids interested and excited about healthy lunches by going for the basics, and how he’s involved in a unique training program to teach food handlers the proper steps to offer safe and nutritious food. Cipriano also works with distributors that gather produce from local farms so delivery of these healthy foods remains fresh and fast. Says Cipriano of the training program:We talked a lot about food safety. We shared information we could bring back to the farmers and food-service workers. I think it definitely increased awareness about produce. It opens up doors to a world one may never had any experience with unless you’ve worked in a produce house or in restaurants.Overall, it’s an interesting piece about how Cipriano, who’s like a rock-star to the students he serves, and others are doing their part in bringing healthy foods to the nation’s schools.
Posted on December 23rd, 2010 No comments
Passionate healthy school food advocate and star chef, Jamie Oliver, has a new posting on his website, JamieOliver.com, that provides a clear and concise explanation of the benefits of the newly signed Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Here are some of the provisions the $4.5 billion allocated to the Act will provide:
- DOA will update national school nutrition standards for food sold outside school meals. This would effectively remove junk food sold on school premises.
- An increase in funding to the national school lunch program, providing an additional $0.06 to schools that meet higher nutritional standards.
- An increase of technical support to schools and strengthening school compliance with nutritional standards.
- An expansion of after-school meal programs for at-risk children and new ways to enroll low-income students into the program.
The passage of the act couldn’t have come at a more critical time when 1 in 3 kids are affected by childhood obesity. Click the the link above for more on the article and the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
Posted on December 9th, 2010 No comments
Simple, Good and Tasty recently had a post on how the Minneapolis Public Schools Food Service Department is incorporating healthy options into the school lunch program by slowly replacing junk food and processed options with healthier fare. Here’s a short list of some of these changes:
- In 2005, the a la carte menu was eliminated, reducing labor costs (freeing up money to spend on food) and making it difficult for kids to load up on sides dishes instead of entrees.
- In 2006, non-fruit desserts (aside from cookies) were eliminated altogether, and more fruits were introduced on the menu.
- In 2007, cookies were taken off the menu. (“Nicole and I went to Anthony [public school in Minneapolis],” Irfan says, “and there was a kid with a stack of cookies for lunch. Nothing else. After that, they were gone.”)
- In 2008, juice was removed from the menu in Minneapolis High Schools.
- In 2010, strawberry milk was eliminated from the menu altogether. Chocolate milk was removed from the breakfast menu.
- Also in 2010, corn dogs, chicken nuggets, and breaded chicken patties were removed from the menu.
These changes come in the wake of feelings from parents and vested individuals who think the schools are not doing enough or moving as fast with implementing healthier foods. As Irfan Chaudhry of the Food Service Department notes:
“We don’t have microwaves in any of the schools,” Irfan says, “and people still think we microwave all the food in the schools.”
There’re also internal worries too, as school lunch providers are wary of non-sugary items not being taken by students. If this happens, kids who are in the federal school meals program will opt out and this will lead to cuts in the program and reductions in salary and staff. So, for now, it’s small steps to replace the sugar and salt with healthier and tasty options, which is definitely a step in the right direction.
Posted on October 7th, 2010 No comments
Jamie Oliver, TV chef and nutrition advocate, posted an opinion piece on CNN about the urgent need to change the way kids eat in schools, especially in the wake of the Child Nutrition Bill stalling in Congress. He’s pushing for parents to go to school to see what kids are eating and urging teachers and parents to stand up for healthier options. He also says if you know how to cook, you can buy more efficiently and if there is a strong food education curriculum, everyone from kids to adults will know where foods come from and how meals are made and can make smarter decisions about what they eat.
With the combination of the national Let’s Move campaign, advocacy groups speaking against junk food in schools and the Child Nutrition Bill hanging in the balance, Oliver states the time to act is now before it’s too late.
If this bill doesn’t get passed when Congress comes back in November, then it’s going to be another five years before we have another shot at fixing these regulations. Five years is too long to wait. Without this legislation, school food will stay in the Dark Ages of nutrition and your kids are going to suffer. They deserve better.
For the link on the story and video, click here.
Posted on September 30th, 2010 No comments
The reauthorization of the child nutrition bill, which recently passed in the Senate and which would required stricter food standards and given more money for nutritional programs in schools, was stalled in the House because of fears the money needed for the program would be taken from the food stamp, or SNAP, program. Anti-hunger activists and a group of Democrats protested the bill because they felt it would take $2 billion from SNAP and thus cut $59 a month from a family of four’s food budget. Public health advocates, though, say the $2 billion was coming from a temporary increase to SNAP that was to cover an inflation increase which ultimately never materialized.
Full Congressional passing of the bill looked promising as the Senate unanimously passed it this summer and First Lady Michelle Obama wrote an op-ed piece for The Washington Post calling the legislation “groundbreaking” and important in bringing needed change to schools. However, many in the House felt the bill too controversial, and didn’t want to tackle it before mid-term elections. Nancy Rice, president of the School Nutrition Association, warns that programs like this are essential in helping to combat the nation’s obesity epidemic.
We can no longer afford to voice our concerns about rising rates of childhood obesity and the need to promote healthier lifestyles at school without investing in the programs that reach children in their school cafeterias each day.
For more, click here.
Posted on September 9th, 2010 No comments
With the start of September comes the start of a new school year. Kids are back in class ready to face new challenges and they’ll need nutritious fuel and a healthy environment to help them on the way. To that end, READS recently sent out a letter to all New Jersey charter schools to let them know of our new Healthy Schools Initiative, a program to help curb childhood obesity and make communities healthier through:
- Creating a School or Community Garden: READS will work with up to two schools during the upcoming school year to establish a garden used to provide healthy food for the school or its community and if possible, incorporate it into the school’s curriculum. READS will assist in gaining access to resources and can lead community organizing efforts.
- Making School Lunch Healthier: READS can work with schools to help them improve their meal provider and make school meals healthier.
- Fostering a Healthier Community: READS can help schools identify and access programs available in communities such as the Community Food Bank of New Jersey’s BackPack Program as well as help to develop a school food pantry, local farmers market, and more.
Through a survey the schools will complete, we’ll find out what programs will work best in specific communities. We’ll then tailor the initiative to meet a school’s unique needs and work with our partners to determine the best resources to use. Schools nationwide and the communities they serve are in the fight against obesity for the long haul and READS is proud to be on their side. For more information about the Healthy Schools Initiative, please call us at 732-635-1000.