Changing the Conversation about School Food

Changing The Conversation About School Food

Mon 14 Oct 2013

Story by Jessica Donze Black

This week marks National School Lunch Week, if you haven't already be sure to find out what's happening with the lunch served at your local schools!

Last week marked an important turning point in the conversation about school food. On Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that 80 percent of schools are serving healthier meals that meet the nutrition standards—just one year after they were established. But USDA wasn’t the only organization sharing good news. In addition, former President Bill Clinton honored 267 of the healthiest schools in the nation participating in the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program. What’s even better is that thousands more schools in the Alliance’s program are meeting or exceeding the updated school food nutrition standards.

All of this good news stems from USDA in 2012 updating its school meal nutrition standards, calling for increased servings of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, with less fat, sodium, and sugar. But there’s more to this than the menu. A report released by the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project regarding schools’ ability to serve healthy meals found that 94 percent of school districts surveyed last year said they could meet the updated nutrition standards by the end of the 2012-2013 academic year.

According to a new report, “Serving Healthy School Meals: Despite challenges, schools meet USDA nutrition requirements,” 91 percent of districts not surprisingly faced some challenges along the way, such as access to affordable food, training, and equipment. Specifically:

• One-third of school districts reported that their current kitchen equipment makes it difficult to serve healthier foods.
• Nearly two-thirds indicated that training staff to serve healthy, safe, and appealing foods was a challenge to meeting the updated meal standards.
• One-quarter faced challenges related to infrastructure, such as electrical and plumbing capacity.

Despite these challenges, the recent data show that most schools can serve healthy meals. Thousands of real-life examples, such as those from El Monte, CA, and Cincinnati, OH, are proof.

Now is the time to help our schools overcome the challenges they face and ensure that all students have safe and healthy meals every day. As parents, we can get this conversation started. Reach out to your school food service director and ask about their needs and how you can help. Together, parents, business leaders, and community members can make it easier for our kids to eat nutritious foods that they’ll enjoy.

About the author: Registered dietitian Jessica Donze Black, a mother of four young children, directs the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project. Follow her on Twitter at @JDonzeBlack_Pew.

Photo Credit: The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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