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Back to School: School Meals Play Vital Nutrition Role for Kids

Posted by Brandon Lipps, Acting Deputy Undersecretary, USDA’s Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services in Food and Nutrition
Aug 31, 2017
A school food professional preparing school meals
School food professionals serve nutritious meals to students across America.

With millions of children now eating both breakfast and lunch at school, school meals play a crucial role in providing the nutrition foundation children need to succeed in the classroom.  For some, the food they get at school may be all they have to eat in the course of a day.  It’s an important fact to consider – particularly now, as kids across the country head back to school.

In my role as Acting Deputy Undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, I can assure you that we’re committed to making certain that the food our kids are served at school is both nutritious and satisfying.  That is why USDA is providing more flexibilities to schools striving to feed children, promote nutrition, and run a financially stable food service program.  Just days after taking office, the Secretary issued a proclamation that will take effect this school year granting schools additional flexibility with regard to whole grains, sodium, and flavored milk to help them be responsive to their specific local circumstances.

As we work to improve school nutrition, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) relies on the work of school food professionals across the country -- and with good reason. These dedicated – and unsung -- professionals are uniquely positioned: They know the children in their care and understand the needs of their school and community, which allows them to explore creative ways to encourage kids to make healthy food choices.  This may include everything from student taste tests and food sampling to chef partnerships, salad bars, breakfast in the classroom, or simply offering more choices that students want (ethnic and regional foods, salad bars, or vegetarian options).

Local is also a priority when it comes to the food served in our schools’ cafeterias. More than 42,500 schools now participate in farm to school practices, and it’s having a positive impact on kids’ palettes and school finances. Plus, when schools buy the ingredients they need close to home, there’s another important benefit: It nourishes the local economy, which can be especially important in rural areas. Bottom line: Farm to school is a win-win all around.

Initiatives like these – and the caring, personal touch they express – help explain the amazing growth experienced in recent years by the School Breakfast Program. Nearly 25 percent more kids eat breakfast at school now than in 2010, which translates to nearly 3 million more children getting a healthy start to their day. Research shows that students who consume breakfast make greater strides on standardized tests, pay attention and behave better in class, and are less frequently tardy, absent or visiting the nurse’s office. These effects are highlighted in this video on Breakfast After the Bell, offered in Chicago Public Schools and elsewhere in Illinois.

So as school bells begin to ring and students pick up their backpacks once again, stop to consider the vital role healthy school nutrition plays in the lives of America’s children and the important efforts of our country’s school food professionals.  Here at FNS, we are committed to continuing to work with these dedicated professionals to ensure the school meals programs are best positioned to fulfill local needs and foster the growth of tomorrow’s leaders, today. 

Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition

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Comments

Stephanie J Maraldo
Sep 01, 2017

My suggestion.

Eliminate the processed food.

Whole Foods for whole kids.

No added sugar. No white flour .
Limit Dairy Low Fat and Greek Yogurt.
Fresh Fruits Plenty of Veggies.
No soda are sugary drinks.
Low Fat not processed as possible proteins.

Be the hero our children deserve. There is no excuse as to why in this day and age healthy food in our schools good annot be provided . None except greed.

I would be happy to volunteer

I thank you in advance for your timely response

Stephanie Maraldo -Carey

Household6
Sep 07, 2017

I'm not a nutritionist. I'm "just" a mom. All I know are the lunch choices at my child's school are pitiful at best, but more like bizmal.

There's a choice of
1. PBJ or a predetermined entre (no choices).
2. Milk - white or chocolate
3. Two sides - there are 3 options offered. 1 must be a fruit, 1 must be a veggie. (Usually the choice will be to pick veggie A or veggie B.)

If you're a kid, what is going to be your choice? Most often mine eats a PBJ, chocolate milk, the fruit, and rarely the veggie (though he does claim to at least try a bite of anything new).

The point of school lunch is to feed the kids on the free program (not applicable to us) and to offer the convenience to parents.

Why don't we take the federally mandated requirements and hand the decision to the states.? If the state so chooses, they can hand the responsibility to the county, and if they so choose, the county to the school (maybe not such a great choice due to advantages of buying in bulk - whether from Costco or preferably local).

This would allow decisions to be made that are more condusive on a local level. Schools could develop a program that's peer-monitored for encouraging a balanced meal.

Other advantage would be in allowing different recipes. Rare is the kid that's going to eat a straight sweet potato. But sprinkle in a bit of brown sugar and maybe a bit of butter, and you've got kids expanding their pallet and eating veggies! The kid comes home and requests mom to make the same recipe. No, it's not as nutritious as the plain version, but it's better than nothing!, and that's where we are right now as the untasty version is thrown in the trash.

Let's face it. This is a "first world problem." Not high on the priority list for any (federal or local) government! But giving the decision-making process back to "the people" would ultimately benefit our kids and farmers the most.

I'm aware of the recent change in the grain requirements. Just wondering if there's anything on the agenda for additional changes?