As Deputy Under Secretary, I have the honor and the pleasure of traveling to schools across the country to see our programs in action. Through my visits, I’ve had a chance to meet with hundreds of dedicated school administrators and school nutrition professionals, hearing countless testimonials of how they strive every day to serve students nutritious foods that will help them succeed in the classroom and grow into healthy adults. As a former school nutrition director myself, these visits are one of the most rewarding parts of my job.
Now, as students return to school and we all turn our thoughts to the year ahead, I can’t help but to be inspired by what’s to come. More than 50 million children attend schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. These students are experiencing school environments that are healthier than ever, with balanced meals, healthy snacks, nutrition education and consistent messaging about the importance of healthy eating.
And the proof is in the pudding – or in this case, the low-fat yogurt! School breakfast has taken off, setting children up for success by ensuring they get a nutritious meal to start each and every day. Participation in school breakfast has climbed steadily from approximately 10.5 million in fiscal year 2008 to more than 14 million children in fiscal year 2015, an increase of more than 32 percent. Across the board, students are eating more fruits and vegetables – to the tune of a 16 percent increase in vegetable consumption. And they are exposed to new nutritious foods through increasingly popular farm to school programs – now at more than 42,500 schools nationwide – that bring fresh, local produce onto kid’s trays and into their diets. It’s clear that the healthy eating movement is gaining traction in our schools.
Equally as important, millions of low-income children are now guaranteed access to meals at school through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). CEP is an optional cost-sharing partnership between the federal government and school districts in high-poverty areas that allows eligible schools in lower income areas to serve nutritious lunches and breakfasts to all students at no cost. This greatly reduces the administrative burden on schools and eliminates the stigma associated with free or reduced priced meals. Close to 8.5 million students from more than 18,000 schools across the country participated in the program in school year 2015-16. We look forward to another year of success stories of knocking out child hunger with the Community Eligibility Provision.
But before we move full speed ahead into the new school year, I encourage everyone to take a moment to celebrate the progress that’s been made. From school nutrition professionals to manufacturers, teachers to parents, students to principals, community leaders to farmers: We should all be proud of the role we’ve all had in shaping the healthy eating movement that will nurture generations of children for years to come.
Thank you to all who have contributed to that progress, and cheers to a healthy and successful school year!