Getting children to eat a healthy meal is not as easy as simply putting salad on their lunch trays. Children turn to foods they are familiar with and have been raised to enjoy; when an 11 year old student has never tasted a carrot, you can dependably guess she won’t try a salad at school without an educated introduction. There are family and economic cultures behind food choices, and there are funding politics behind school lunches. As Lori Adkins states below, “all stakeholders need to come together peacefully to discuss workable solutions – the health and well-being of our kids and our nation is counting on it.” READ on…
From Lori Adkins, MS, SNS, CHE: The recent national press on school meal programs has been disappointing and at times misleading…
For a clear view of what’s really happening in school cafeterias let’s take a thousand-foot view of school lunch programs. Since 2012 schools have implemented a plethora of new standards set forth by USDA with the overarching goal of improving student access to food, while addressing the complex issues of childhood hunger and obesity.
As the largest government food program with 31 million lunches served each day, the national school lunch program has been tapped by the USDA to lead the charge of reversing the obesity trend which began over 30 years ago.
In an effort towards this charge, school lunch menus now include more whole grains, a wider variety of fruits and vegetables along with menu items with lower fat, sodium and sugar than ever before. Many schools are incorporating scratch cooking, sourcing local fruits and vegetables and planting school gardens to teach kids where fruits and vegetables come from and how they grow.
Over the past two years there’s been remarkable changes in school cafeterias in every Oakland County district.
The “junk foods” so often mentioned by the media are simply not sold in Oakland County school cafeterias. However, getting kids to change and move towards healthier eating habits and preferences has been challenging. The greatest challenge for operators has been managing the revenue gaps created by higher food costs and lower revenues due to the new USDA regulations.
Schools have experienced abrupt declines in student participation for two years in a row and many food service programs are in financial crisis. It’s not common knowledge that school food service programs are required to be self supporting and are not subsidized by a school district’s general fund. It’s vital for program revenues to meet or exceed expenses annually for a program to remain fiscally viable. This is the piece of the story that the national media falls short in telling: school food service programs must be financially sustainable in order to feed kids.
Despite this, school food service administrations do not want to “roll-back” the new regulations as suggested in the media, but rather to take pause and reassess so kids tastes can catch-up with regulation requirements. Without program sustainability, schools will be unable to lead the charge of reversing the obesity epidemic; in addition, kids will be at risk for not getting the proper nutrition they need for learning.
School meal programs are not the cause of childhood obesity but rather part of the solution. All stakeholders need to come together peacefully to discuss workable solutions – the health and well-being of our kids and our nation is counting on it.
Lori Adkins MS, SNS, CHE, is a Child Nutrition Consultant at Oakland Schools. She is an educator and adjunct professor with 24 years of School Food Service experience. Lori is the Statewide Training Task Force Chair for the School Nutrition Association of Michigan (SNAM) and serves as the mid-east regional rep for the SNA National Public Policy and Legislative Committee.
Blog Editor: Jean MacLeod, Communications/Oakland Schools
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TWEET THIS: The Politics of School Lunch: stakeholders need to come to the table http://ow.ly/xTKpY #EdChat