School Lunch

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Despite New Federal Rules, California Likely to Stay with Healthy School Lunches

Elementary students at a northern California school at the fruit and salad bar. (Jane Meredith Adams/EdSource)

Elementary students at a northern California school at the fruit and salad bar. (Jane Meredith Adams/EdSource)

By Jane Meredith Adams, EdSource

California’s enthusiasm for healthy school lunches appears unlikely to change under a Congressional budget bill headed to President Barack Obama for signature that would allow states to weaken new federal school nutrition requirements.

The changes to the regulations for the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 – part of a $1.1 trillion budget agreement passed on Saturday – are the latest in a heated conflict over the new National School Lunch Program menus, which call for increased servings of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and reductions in fats and sodium.

The bill would exempt some schools from the requirement that they serve only breads and pastas that are “whole grain rich,” meaning they are at least 50 percent whole grain. To receive an exemption, schools must show evidence of “hardship, including financial hardship” in obtaining 50 percent whole grain foods that are “acceptable to students.” The bill also would keep sodium restrictions at current levels until “the latest scientific research establishes the reduction is beneficial for children.” The language referring to the exemptions begins on page 99 of the lengthy spending bill. Continue reading

Statewide Program Delights Schoolkids with California-Grown Produce

(David Gorn/KQED)

California-grown persimmons and pears on the lunch line in Elk Grove. (David Gorn/KQED)

By David Gorn

At Elk Grove Elementary School, just outside Sacramento, it’s lunchtime and kids are doing what kids do when they’re let loose from the classroom: running around, laughing and generally having fun.

Tying farm to school so children understand the connection.

But this day at Elk Grove has a little extra charge to it. It’s “California Thursday,” a program that brings locally-grown food into school lunch rooms. And more.

Out on the playground, there’s a lottery wheel going. Someone is running around in a carrot suit. Volunteer Katie O’Malley, a student from UC Davis, mans the almond-butter booth: whole almonds go in the top and come out below in a thick paste — sending 9-year-olds into fits of giggles.

And that’s the point, O’Malley said, making food fun. Continue reading

School Lunch Debate: What’s At Stake?

While 90 percent of schools have made the transition to new school lunch standards, some schools insist that the standards are unworkable. (Photo: USDA)

While 90 percent of schools have made the transition to new school lunch standards, some schools insist that the standards are unworkable. (Photo: USDA)

By Allison Aubrey and Jessica Pupovac, NPR

School lunches have never been known for culinary excellence. But to be fair, the National School Lunch Program — which provides free or reduced lunches to about 31 million kids every day — has never aimed to dazzle as much as to fill little bellies.

In 2010, Congress gave the Federal School Lunch Program a nutrition make-over. New regulations called for:

  • Increasing the amount of whole grains served in school cafeterias
  • Shifting to fat free or low-fat milks
  • Limiting the amount of calories that can come from saturated fats to 10 percent
  • Offering fruits and vegetables on a daily basis
  • Implementing caloric minimums and maximums for each meal

Those were just the first steps. By the school year starting this fall, schools are also required to: Continue reading

School Meals Face Rules on Fat, Meat, Veggies – But No Limits on Sugar

(Photo: USDAgov via Flickr)

(Photo: USDAgov via Flickr)

By Eleanor Yang SuThe Center for Investigative Reporting

Almost everything about a school cafeteria meal has a regulation. The federal government caps the amount of fat and salt in breakfasts and lunches. It sets minimum standards for servings of fruit, vegetables, grains, milk and meat.

But one widely used and often-overused product has no official limits: sugar.

As Congress faces increased scrutiny over subsidies to the sugar industry, nutritionists and anti-obesity crusaders are focusing on the amount of sugar in school meals – and asking whether regulations governing school lunches deliberately exclude limits on sugar to favor a powerful industry.

Recent research shows that sugar levels in school meals are more than double what is recommended for the general public. Elementary school lunch menus contain 115 percent of the recommended daily calories from added sugars and fats, according to a November study by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service. Middle school and high school lunch menus also are sugar- and fat-heavy, averaging between 59 and 74 percent of the recommended amounts.

About 1 in 5 school lunch menus includes dessert, the federal study said. The most common are cookies, cakes and brownies, some of which are counted as grain requirements. Other popular options are fruit with gelatin, ice cream and pudding. Continue reading

Why School Lunch Matters in State’s New Education Funding Formula

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Jane Meredith Adams, EdSource

Never has school lunch meant so much for California education.

Delivering significantly more money to schools based on the number of low-income children they serve is at the heart of the sweeping new K-12 finance system approved by the state Legislature in June. The new system defines “low income” as those students eligible for the school’s free and reduced-price meals program.

If the demand for new paperwork jeopardizes funding for needy children in any way, after years of work to pass Proposition 30, “People will become unglued.”

But two months into the rollout of the reforms, which Gov. Jerry Brown praised as a victory for the neediest students, two of the largest districts –- Los Angeles Unified and Fresno Unified –- are in a dispute with the state over a last-minute change in how children who receive free meals are counted. Instead of moving into the school year confident of how much new funding they’ll receive for low-income students, the two districts, as well as scores of other districts in the state, are now being asked to submit new data from hundreds of thousands of low-income families before the funding will be released.

“We didn’t bargain for this and we were not told this,” said John Deasy, superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District, the state’s largest district with more than 650,000 students, more than half of whom –- 384,000 students –- attend 466 district schools that are being asked to certify low-income students again. If the demand for new paperwork jeopardizes funding for needy children in any way, after years of work to pass Proposition 30 to fund education and to pass the new education finance system, Deasy said, there will be an outcry from educators, advocates, students, parents and legislators. “People will become unglued,” he said. Continue reading

Short School Lunch Periods Leave Kids Hungry

Lunchtime at Oakland High School  The Oakland Unified School District switched to a closed-campus lunch last fall, and the school now offers free lunches to every student. (Noah Berger/Center for Investigative Reporting)

Students eat lunch in the Oakland High School cafeteria. To get lunch, students in one line enter their ID numbers – used by staff to track free and reduced-price meals – and then receive tickets to exchange for meals in other lines. One student said he typically waits 20 to 25 minutes for food. (Noah Berger/Center for Investigative Reporting)

By Joanna LinThe Center for Investigative Reporting

The green beans are portioned and displayed in orderly rows. The lasagnas are steaming up their plastic covers. The workers stand ready, their hair netted and aprons tied. The bell rings, and a stream of nearly 1,000 students floods in to Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School’s cafeteria, barely slowing as they load cardboard trays with apple juice, chicken wings and sliced cucumbers.

Hungry students are more prone to headaches, stomachaches and behavior problems and less able to concentrate in class, educators say.
Because lunch is free for all students at Bravo, in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, no one pauses to pay. Still, during the lunch rush this day in May, food service worker Rodelinda Gomez stops a few.

“Hey! Hey!” Gomez hollers to students with no greens on their trays. “Come on and get your vegetables. You have to get them!”

For schools to receive federal reimbursement for lunches, they must serve — not just offer — each student at least a half-cup of fruit or vegetables. Lunches also must include servings of at least two other foods, such as a protein and a grain.

The requirement, adopted in the last school year, is part of an effort to serve students healthier foods. And eating those foods takes time – more time than many students have.

“A student can eat a cup of applesauce in no time – you can practically drink that. But chewing through an apple takes a lot longer,” said Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association, a national advocacy organization. “If we want our students to eat more salads, fruits and vegetables, we need to give them more time to consume them.” Continue reading

Small Farmer In Central Valley Takes His Strawberries ‘Farm to School’

By Rebecca Plevin, Valley Public Radio

Pao Saephan's strawberries are just days away from being fully ripe. (Rebecca Plevin/Valley Public Radio)

Pao Saephan’s strawberries are just days away from being fully ripe. (Rebecca Plevin/Valley Public Radio)

Pao Saephan crouches down in his sun-drenched field. He cups a red jewel in his hand. In a few more days, his strawberries will be fully ripe. He’ll pick them once they are rosy red from stem to tip.

“We want all the strawberries, to be full ripe, full flavor, with 100 percent sugar in them,” says Saephan.

In the past, he would sell the fresh berries at his roadside stand, in the small town of Reedley, southeast of Fresno.

The goal is for children to “experience fresh produce and make healthy eating choices over a lifetime.”
But this year, he will sell the bulk of his berries directly to the Fresno Unified School District. He says he is thrilled to share the fruits of his labor with Central Valley students.

“We have farmed a long time, but this is my passion, to be farming something that feeds local,” says Saephan.

Saephan is the first small farmer to sell his produce directly to Fresno Unified. He could pave the way for other small farmers to begin selling their produce directly with the school district.

Jose Alvarado, food services director for Fresno Unified notes that the district is located in the “produce and vegetable capital” of the world. “We have been taking advantage of that,” he says, “but now it’s taking it to another level, from the farmer, when the occasion is right, and it meets our needs. Strawberries were just a natural for us.” Continue reading

Sometimes When School Is Out, So Is The Food

Kids line up for a free summer meal through a Chico Unified School District program. (Photo: Patrice Chamberlain)

To understand some of the powerful hunger issues in our state, go no further than the Silicon Valley YMCA.

The Y runs summer youth programs in Gilroy. Vice president of programming and community development Mary Hoshiko Haughey says last summer they had a boy in the middle school group who wasn’t eating his lunch.

“This was the first day of the program, and our staff asked ‘Why aren’t you eating?’ ‘What would you like?'” Haughey recalled. “And he said, ‘I can’t eat because I need to make sure my brother and sister are eating. Do they have food in their program too? Otherwise I have to save it for them.’ And finally we put him on the phone with them at another site and they said ‘yes, we’re eating,’ so he finally did too.”

Haughey paused. “It’s an example of the adult issues that our young children are taking on. He wasn’t going to eat unless he knew his siblings would.”

It’s also an example of the importance of the summer meal programs that are offered throughout the state. Some school-based programs directly continue the work of the School Lunch Program and Summer Food Service Program that serves free and reduced meals to low income students throughout the year. Others are sponsored by food banks or summer youth program sites.

The Silicon Valley Y is part of the California Summer Meal Coalition, which is working to increase awareness of the USDA summer nutrition programs offered through the California Department of Education.

Continue reading

Global Experts Meet in Oakland to Share Ideas on Children’s Health

Malaria, tuberculosis, HIV — these are the communicable diseases many people associate with death in the developing world. But increasingly diseases like diabetes, heart disease and conditions related to obesity have become the ticking “time bomb” that public health experts are desperately trying to prevent form exploding.

Healthier school lunches can help fight obesity and its related diseases. (Photo: USDAgov/Flickr)

The Public Health Institute (PHI) convened the first-ever conference focusing exclusively on children and non-communicable diseases this week in downtown Oakland. Experts from around the world gathered to exchange ideas about how to prevent diseases that were once thought to be illnesses of the developed world from spreading globally. It’s no coincidence that the conference is being held in Oakland. “Poverty is a root cause of a lot of the problems that bring diseases like this to the fore, and it’s something that we grapple with on a daily basis in Oakland,” explained Jeff Meer, PHI’s special advisor for global health. “If we can get a handle on how poverty relates to illness in Oakland, then we can understand it in Bujumbura and Kigali.”

The four most common non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are diabetes, cancer, chronic lung disease and chronic heart disease. “Most of us think of them as illnesses that strike in rich, highly developed countries; but the fact is that there is a tidal wave, an epidemic of non-communicable diseases that is striking populations all over the world, and striking, frankly with great ferocity in very poor places that have fewer resources than we do to deal with them,” Meer told me. A tidal wave indeed — two-thirds of deaths worldwide can be attributed to NCDs according to Meer. Continue reading

Is L.A. Schools’ Healthy Lunch Program Really a Flop?

Reports are that school children are ditching their healthy lunches, which include fresh produce, and sneaking in junk food. (Ali Karimian: Flickr)

Reports say that school children are ditching their healthy lunches, which include fresh produce, and sneaking in junk food. (Ali Karimian: Flickr)

The Los Angeles Times featured a lengthy piece last weekend on L.A. Unified School District‘s apparent failure in its new much-touted school lunch program, overhauled to be more healthful.

Early in the school year, the Times reports, L.A. Unified “got rid of chocolate and strawberry milk, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, nachos and other food high in fat, sugar and sodium.” With roughly 30 percent of school age children now overweight or obese, striking such unhealthy food from school lunches seems like a good place to start to coax kids to eat a healthier diet.

But the Times claims the change has been a “flop” for many students. Stories of a black-market for junk food on certain campuses are reported, including kids sneaking in “Flamin’ Hot Cheetos” and soda.  And the school lunches themselves?

Continue reading