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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.

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.

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?

Celebrating Progress: Back to School 2016-17

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.

A Conversation with USDA Leader Audrey Rowe

Audrey Rowe serves as the Administrator for the Food and Nutrition Service.  Rowe oversees the nation’s 15 federal nutrition assistance programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, and National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs.

“I started my career as an elementary school teacher… and I didn’t last very long because I saw such challenges with learning and health. I saw that school policies treated kids differently based on where their community was located, so I became an advocate for low-income children and families because they often don’t have a strong voice.” – Audrey Rowe

Our Students Have a Voice in School Meals

One key strategy in helping schools serve nutritious and appealing meals that students will eat is to simply ask, “What do you need?”

On April 9, USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) asked this simple yet compelling question to nearly 40 4-H delegates at the 2016 National 4-H Conference in Chevy Chase, Md. USDA FNS hosted the roundtable session, “Healthy Eating in Schools:  A Dialogue with USDA Food & Nutrition Service,” in an effort to give eager student leaders a chance to share their views on school meals and healthy eating. Participants came from all across the U.S. states and territories, from Nebraska to North Carolina, and as far away as Puerto Rico and a U.S. Air Force base in Japan.

New What's Cooking? Recipes and Cooking Videos Help School Food Service and Home Cooks Make Mouthwatering Meals

USDA’s Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services just released 50 new, mouth-watering recipes for schools chefs on our What’s Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl website.  Some are existing USDA recipes that we’ve updated, while others are brand new recipes that students will love.  These tasty, kid-approved recipes are tailored for large quantity food service operations in 25, 50, or 100 portions.  And each recipe includes a nutritional breakdown as well as crediting information on how the recipe contributes toward updated meal pattern requirements for the National School Lunch Program and other USDA child nutrition programs.

The 50 recipes include main dishes and side dishes featuring more nutrient-rich ingredients such as whole grains, dark green and red/orange vegetables, and beans/legumes than ever before.  And an additional 150 recipes are being developed and will be posted throughout the next year!  These recipes will provide a ready-to-go resource for school nutrition professionals looking for delicious, nutrient-rich dishes that will make it easy to meet meal pattern requirements and satisfy hungry kids.

SNAP-Ed Helps Spur Healthy Choices

March is National Nutrition Month. Throughout the month, USDA will be highlighting results of our efforts to improve access to safe, healthy food for all Americans and supporting the health of our next generation.

Encouraging all Americans to make healthy nutrition and lifestyle choices is a top priority for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). One of the most important ways we do that is through nutrition education provided by USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

SNAP-Ed delivers evidence-based, coordinated nutrition education and obesity prevention services and information to people participating in SNAP, as well as other eligible low-income families and communities.  Activities provided through SNAP-Ed encourage physical activity, work to improve nutrition, and prevent obesity.  These activities may include:

How the Biggest Changes in Our Nation's Nutrition Programs in a Generation Came to Be, Part I

Cross posted from Secretary Vilsack's Medium page:

More than seven years ago, in one of my very first conversations with newly-elected President Obama, his charge to me was simple: “feed the children and feed them well.”  Today, I’m proud to say that feeding children and supporting families in a time of great need is not only among the greatest domestic policy achievements of USDA under the Obama Administration, it is among my proudest accomplishments as Secretary.

Recess Before Lunch - The Secret Ingredient of Montana's School Lunch Program

The following guest blog showcases Montana Team Nutrition and their excellent work implementing their Recess Before Lunch (RBL) program. Through this initiative Montana students enjoy active play right before indulging a nutritious school lunch meal allowing them to return to class ready for academic success.

By: Katie Bark, RD, LN, SNS (Project Director Montana Team Nutrition, Montana State University),  Christine Emerson, MS, RD, LN (State Director, School Nutrition Programs, Office of Public Instruction), and Molly Stenberg, RD, LN (Assistant Project Director, Montana Team Nutrition, Montana State University)

As USDA’s Team Nutrition celebrates its 20th anniversary, so does Montana Team Nutrition (MTTN)! Since 1995, MTTN has used funding from USDA to provide nutrition education and technical assistance to school districts across our state. Moreover, we’ve been innovators in our field, and one of our biggest accomplishments has been instituting a recess before lunch (RBL) culture in many of our schools.