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National School Lunch Program

Taste Test: Behind the Scenes with USDA Foods

The USDA Foods Available List is a lot like any other menu, with dozens of healthy options for state agencies to order and distribute through USDA’s nutrition assistance programs.  And every year, foods are added or removed from the list based on customer demand and market conditions. Some offerings are modified to improve nutrition content or make the product and its packaging easier to work with in the kitchen or more acceptable to kids.

The USDA Foods program is a collaboration between the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), the agency that procures the food, and the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), the agency that distributes the food. This school year, the USDA Foods team’s goal for training and conferences is to provide more opportunities to taste new and reformulated products. That way, state agencies can confidently order them and school districts can incorporate them into their menus.

Minneapolis School Embraces Family-Style Dining

How do you create a better lunch experience for students? It all started with a conversation between Ginger Davis Kranz, Principal of Webster Elementary School, and the Minneapolis Public Schools’ Director of Food Service, Bertrand Weber. In September 2016, I was fortunate enough to visit Webster Elementary School in Minneapolis and see for myself how their family-style dining works. I’d like to share Webster Principal Ginger Davis Kranz’s inspiring blog about her school’s innovative and thoughtful approach to the students’ mealtime experience.

By Ginger Davis Kranz, Principal of Webster Elementary School

What if school lunchtime was more than just a wait in line and a race to find a seat and eat, but instead was more like a traditional family meal – a time when friends gather to enjoy their food, engage in meaningful conversation, build relationships and gain important life skills? After reflecting on this question, Webster Elementary, a Minneapolis public school, made the decision to abandon the typical chaotic and impersonal lunchroom experience and create a family-style dining program.

Fighting Hunger: Closing the Summer Feeding Gap

Summer is tough to enjoy when you’re hungry. It’s a hard reality that many kids from low-income households face when school is out and the weather turns sunny. To help close the summer feeding gap, the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer demonstration offers a new model to do just that.

Without the daily nutrition provided by the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program, many families facing poverty are also experiencing its most difficult symptom: hunger. USDA has several tools to help solve this problem, with the newest addition being the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer for Children demonstration project, commonly referred to as Summer EBT.

USDA Foods' Local Roots: DoD Fresh Connects the Farm to School

What do the military’s logistical network, peaches and peppers, and school children have in common? The first delivers the second to the third through a unique partnership between the Department of Defense (DoD) and USDA.

October is National Farm to School Month and the perfect time to celebrate the DoD Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which connects schools with fresh and often local produce using their USDA Foods entitlement dollars. Schools order local foods from a variety of sources, and according to the 2015 USDA Farm to School Census, 29 percent of districts participating in farm to school are receiving local foods through DoD Fresh.

Colorado Proud School Meal Day Features Local Yak, Peaches, Potatoes and More!

From locally-raised yak burgers to school garden-grown zucchini, Colorado schools kicked off the school year with farm to school gusto! On September 14, an estimated 550 schools reaching 160,700 students celebrated Colorado Proud School Meal Day by featuring fresh, locally-grown food in their school meals. The annual event is organized by Colorado Proud, a program to promote local foods through the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

Students from the public Denver Green School celebrated with special guests including Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Deputy Under Secretary Katie Wilson and Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock. Guests joined students for a delicious school lunch featuring homegrown zucchini, onions, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes. Students voiced their excitement for the fresh food, and guests headed outside to the school farm where the produce was grown.

Make a Cafeteria Date to Eat a Healthy Lunch with Your Child at School

More than 50 million children around the country attend schools that participate in USDA’s National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Programs.  And not only are their meals full of nutritious ingredients – with 99 percent of schools nationwide reporting that they are successfully meeting the updated nutrition standards – their entire learning environment fosters healthy habits now and throughout the rest of their lives.  During National School Lunch Week 2016, USDA and partners like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, are celebrating this progress.

It’s National School Lunch Week and this year we have more to celebrate than ever before!

Over the past decade, significant policy changes have sparked a national movement that has transformed the school nutrition landscape and created a new healthier era for school foods. Many of these policies were initiated by USDA, including updated nutrition standards for the meals and snacks schools offer, as well as updated requirements for local wellness policies.

Thanks to these developments and incredible efforts by schools to put them in place, millions of students across America not only have healthier meals, snacks, and drinks at school – they’re also learning healthy habits that will last a lifetime.

Celebrating Progress: National School Lunch Week 2016

Cross-posted from the Food Research and Action Center blog:

Last week, children from more than a dozen schools and child care centers across the nation joined First Lady Michelle Obama for her final harvest of the White House garden. This event was more than just photo ops and shaking hands; kids got their hands dirty, harvesting the produce they later used to prepare a healthy meal. This was a neat experience for the students who participated, but it was also representative of the types of activities students are participating in all around the country. School gardens, nutritious snacks, farm to lunch tray meals, and nutrition education are all part of the healthier school environments students are experiencing each and every day.

Today kicks off National School Lunch Week 2016 and continues our month-long observance of Farm to School Month, and this year, there’s a lot to celebrate. More than 50 million children around the country attend schools that participate in USDA’s National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. Not only are their meals full of nutritious foods – with 99 percent of schools nationwide reporting that they are successfully meeting the updated nutrition standards – their entire learning environment fosters healthy habits now and throughout the rest of their lives. The Smart Snacks Final Rule aligned the standards for snacks offered to students during the school day with the nutrition standards that apply to lunch and breakfast. In addition, the recently published Local School Wellness Policy Final Rule ensures that any food and beverage marketing kids are exposed to during the school day must adhere to the Smart Snacks standards, sending a consistent, positive message to students about the importance of healthy eating.

The Annual Harvest Challenge: Student Teams Supported by Chefs Move to Schools and Farm to School

Cross-posted from the Let's Move blog:

The annual Harvest Challenge, menu planning and cooking event for high school students, is an important example of how aspiring chefs get started and learn to create winning recipes.

This exciting contest, which is now going into its 8th year, challenges teams of high school students – including staff and chef mentors – to develop a creative, appetizing and visually appealing school lunch entrée and side dish while incorporating locally grown foods. At the same time, the entrée and side dish must comply with USDA National School Lunch nutrition standards and meet a budget of $1 per person per serving (entrée and side dish combined). “This is a fun and challenging event for our high school students that really enables them to appreciate the hard work that goes into school food programs,” says Ashlee Gabrielson, director of the Vernon County Farm to School Program in Wisconsin.

September is National Food Safety Education Month

Can you believe that September is already here?  It may not feel like fall where you are, but, slowly, our focus has begun to shift from summer fun to returning to school and learning.

For more than twenty years, September has been recognized as National Food Safety Education Month.  The National Food Safety Education Month theme for 2016 is “Notorious Virus.”  So what better time to consider learning more about food safety and, in particular, learning more about food safety education in the school environment?

Chefs Move to Schools! How to Put on a Junior Chef Competition

Cross-posted from the Let's Move blog:

Student culinary competitions are becoming a fun and popular learning tool utilized by many schools throughout the country to engage students in creating healthy, appealing meals. These events encourage students to eat more nutritious foods, as well as give students a voice about foods in schools, showcase school nutrition programs and stimulate interest in local agriculture.

To simplify the planning process and assist schools that may be interested in hosting a student cooking competition, the Institute of Child Nutrition, in conjunction with the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, has developed the Chefs Move to Schools: Junior Chef Competition toolkit. Customizable based on the needs of the school, the toolkit includes how-to information as well as sample rules, forms, and guidelines for planning and pulling off a culinary competition at school.