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School Lunch

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.

Farm to School Efforts Positively Impact Tribal Communities

An ancient belief held by tribal communities is that the soil is cared for by Mother Earth, the nurturer and the protector of the land. This idea speaks to the importance of farm to school efforts in tribal communities.  And many tribal communities are reconnecting children with their rich history and cultures by establishing farm to school programs.

Tribes are integrating traditional foods into the Child Nutrition Programs, sourcing foods locally, incorporating multicultural nutrition education into classroom curriculum and providing hands-on lessons in school gardens. USDA’s Office of Community Food Systems supports tribal communities through the USDA Farm to School Grant Program, assisting tribes across the nation to connect with local producers and teaching children about where their food comes from.

National Farm to School Month Highlights Benefits to America's Students and Communities

It’s National Farm to School Month and USDA’s Office of Community Food Systems is here to help…and not just in October!  All year long, we offer research, grants, training and technical assistance to help connect child nutrition programs with local foods.  Here’s why.

Farm to school helps form healthy habits. By incorporating local foods, farm to school programs help school meal programs fulfill the updated nutrition standards with appealing and diverse offerings.  And the results are impressive.  The recent 2015 USDA Farm to School Census shows farm to school programs now exist in every state in the nation and in every type of school district – large and small, rural and urban alike. With that in mind, we plan to build on this momentum!

Think Nutrition as High School Students Return to School

The start of the school year is a great time to get high school students thinking about the nutrition and physical activity choices they make. USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) and Team Nutrition have a variety of resources available to support high school educators as they guide students on their path to good health.

SuperTracker Lesson Plans for High School Students

CNPP has just released updated SuperTracker Nutrition Lesson Plans for High School Students. This free nutrition education resource for teachers, schools, and health educators helps students grades 9-12 learn how to build a healthy diet using MyPlate and SuperTracker, an interactive food and physical activity tracking tool. Originally released in 2014, the lesson plans have been updated to reflect the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and two new lessons have been added.

Massachusetts' Smarter Lunchrooms Movement

Through the Team Nutrition initiative, USDA provides grants to state agencies to expand and enhance their training and educational activities to help schools provide appealing and nutritious meals, nutrition education and healthier school environments. These efforts are designed to help children get the nutrition they need to learn, grow and be healthy.  In addition to grants, Team Nutrition provides free nutrition education materials to schools, child care settings and summer meal sites that participate in the Child Nutrition programs.

By Samantha Therrien, graduate student, Framingham State University Food and Nutrition Program & Karen McGrail, MEd, RDN, LDN, Director, the John C. Stalker Institute of Food and Nutrition at Framingham State University

It’s that time again! As students head back to school many school nutrition programs across Massachusetts are continuing to use Smarter Lunchrooms strategies gained through their participation in a USDA Team Nutrition grant. The research-based Smarter Lunchrooms Movement, established at the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Program, focuses on creating sustainable lunchrooms that make the healthy choice, the easy choice for students. The Movement is based on the idea that even small, low-cost changes can make a big difference, and Massachusetts schools are benefitting from this first-hand.

Know Where Your Food Comes From with USDA Foods

Do you know where your food comes from?  If you can pinpoint where your food was grown and produced, you can make more informed decisions to maximize quality, freshness, and nutritional value.  You can also help support local economies through your purchases.  The USDA Foods program takes this mantra to heart and publishes state of origin reports with procurement information on all USDA Foods every year.  As we like to say at FNS, “All USDA Foods are local to someone.”

USDA Foods are 100 percent American grown and produced.  Each year, USDA procures more than 200 types of food, including meat, poultry, fish, fruits, vegetables, flour, cereals, and dairy products, totaling approximately $2 billion.  Organizations such as food banks, disaster and emergency feeding organizations, Indian Tribal Organizations, schools, and other feeding groups receive these USDA Foods for use in meal service or distribution to households through programs like the National School Lunch Program, The Emergency Food Assistance Program, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations.

Celebrating American Agriculture: All USDA Foods are Local to Someone

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.

Fish and fowl, sowing and reaping, nutrition and agriculture… certain words and concepts naturally go hand in hand, and March is a month to celebrate both the foundation and purpose of the American food system. With March designated as National Nutrition Month and March 15 as National Agriculture Day, the time is ripe to reflect on healthy eating goals and to express gratitude for the farmers, fishers, and ranchers who provide the foods to fuel our nation.

USDA’s Food Distribution Programs work at the intersection of nutrition and agriculture. Each year, USDA purchases more than 2 billion pounds of food worth nearly $2 billion from American farmers and distributes the food to schools, food banks, Indian Tribal Organizations, disaster feeding organizations, and other charitable institutions and feeding organizations. The programs benefit both ends of the food chain by supporting local agriculture and the economy while also providing a nutrition safety net for vulnerable Americans.

Go Local - Promoting Healthy Habits and Boosting Local Communities

The following guest blog highlights Providence, Rhode Island school district’s exemplary commitment to purchase and source local food into the school meal programs. Going local economically supports RI farms and small businesses and provides opportunities for students to consume healthy, fresh foods and learn how their food is grown and promote healthy food choices.

By Providence Public Schools, Rhode Island

Providence Public School District (PPSD) is the largest school district in Rhode Island, serving 24,000 students.  In the heart of New England, PPSD has had historical ties to locally grown agriculture and food for centuries.  For the past few years, PPSD requires that RI-grown products compose at least 15% of all food purchases annually, helping to economically support the RI food system with local dollars, while promoting the environmental benefits of local land stewardship.

How Can We Support Affordable, Nutritious Diets? Reduce Wasted Food

Looking for a way to stretch your food dollars?  Would an extra $30 per month for each person in your household help?  That’s about $370 per person per year, or almost $1,500 for a family of four.  That’s the amount of money USDA estimates the average American spends on food that’s not eaten.  It is the equivalent of approximately 2 months’ worth of groceries in a year. 

Reducing food loss and waste is an important part of maximizing household budgets. USDA has initiated a number of projects to help consumers reduce wasted food and improve overall nutrition.  Most recently, USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) launched a new section on ChooseMyPlate.gov to raise awareness about how much edible food is wasted nationwide, along with a range of resources supporting food waste reduction efforts, including a new infographic titled “Let’s Talk Trash.” There are also tips on ways to reduce food waste at home.

Celebrate National School Lunch Week 2015

The fall season has arrived and with it the National School Lunch Week celebration! During the second week of October, USDA recognizes the important role school meal programs play in providing healthy, appetizing foods to their students. Over the last several weeks, USDA leaders visited schools to experience their meal programs first hand. And they were quite impressed! Now more than ever, today’s schools encourage healthy choices by featuring creative dishes and a variety of fruits and vegetables. USDA also got the chance to tour school gardens that harvest fresh ingredients and allow students to learn where their food comes from. It was exciting to see the many ways schools get students excited about health and nutrition and the important strides made to secure a healthier next generation.

After only three years since the updated nutrition standards were implemented, more than 96 percent of schools nationwide are meeting the standards.  The impact is nothing short of inspiring. School lunch revenue has increased by up to $450 million; teachers report that students are more attentive in the classroom; and a Harvard study found students are now eating more fruits and vegetables!