Health Care and School Lunches

Do you
remember those school days in the cafeteria when you were going through the
lunch line? How about the lunch ladies with their hair nets, and big metal
spoons they used to slop the slop? And what about “Mystery Meat Thursday”? Do
you have flashbacks when you go into a restaurant that has self serve buffet
lines?


These
kinds of memories are shared by millions of people who at one time or another
experienced eating lunch in a school lunch room, and only the lucky kids who
brought their sack lunches were fortunate enough to avoid seeing chicken
spaghetti with sauce as heavy as silicon morter thrown onto their tray at least
once a week.


The school
lunch program in schools across the country has long been a joke that keeps on
giving. However, it has suffered some changes, and is still a source of
contention with school districts, parents and kids, and the federal government.
This month, according to Farm Futures Magazine, the USDA has renewed
efforts to connect school cafeterias with local farmers and ranchers through
its Farm to School Program. The program helps schools buy more food from local
farmers and ranchers in their communities, expanding access to healthy local
food for school children and supporting local economies.


The Secretary of Agriculture stated: “These
inspiring collaborations provide students with healthy, fresh food, while
supporting healthy local economies. Through farm to school projects, community
partners are coming together to ensure a bright future for students, and for
local farmers and ranchers.” Much more information about this initiative
can be found at this website: http://farmfutures.com/story-usda-pushes-more-local-food-school-lunches-0-121067
.

 


Since the 1940’s schools have been providing federally
assisted school meal programs. The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a
federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private
schools and residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally
balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. The program was
established under the National School Lunch Act, signed by President Harry
Truman in 1946, according to the USDA. More feedback about this aspect of
school nutrition can be found at this site: http://www.fns.usda.gov/nslp/national-school-lunch-program-nslp
.


According to FRAC, the Food Research and Action Center, the
NSLP provides per meal
cash reimbursements to schools as an entitlement to provide nutritious meals to
children. This means that all eligible schools can participate and all children
attending those schools can participate. Schools participating in NSLP also
receive agricultural commodities (unprocessed or partially processed foods) as
a supplement to the per-meal cash reimbursements, in amounts based on the
number of lunches they serve. USDA
research indicates that children who participate in the NSLP have superior
nutritional intakes compared to those who do not participate.

 


The
National School Lunch Program provides school children with one-third or more
of their Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for key nutrients. These lunches
are required to provide no more than 30 percent of calories from fat and less
than 10 percent from saturated fat. Every school district that participates in
the National School Lunch Program was required to enact a local school wellness
policy, an opportunity to address obesity and promote healthy eating and
physical activity through changes in school environments. More details are available
at this site: http://frac.org/federal-foodnutrition-programs/national-school-lunch-program/
.

 


Additionally,
the Food and Nutrition Service administers several
programs that provide healthy food to children including the National School
Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Child and Adult Care Food
Program, the Summer Food Service Program, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable
Program, and the Special Milk Program. Administered by State agencies, each of
these programs helps fight hunger and obesity by reimbursing organizations such
as schools, child care centers, and after-school programs for providing healthy
meals to children.



According to the New America Foundation, the National School Lunch Program
supports student nutrition in over 101,000 schools and residential facilities.
It provides free and reduced priced meals to low-income children before school,
during school, after school, and over the summer. In fiscal year 2013, federal
school nutrition programs underwrote more than five billion lunches served.
Total funding for all nutrition programs sums to $16.3 billion in both cash and
commodity payments in fiscal year 2014. To find more detailed info on this
topic, visit this website: http://febp.newamerica.net/background-analysis/federal-school-nutrition-programs
.


However, according to Breitbart, the National School Lunch Program feeds upwards to 31 million American
students a day, spending nearly $12 billion annually; but many of those
children are throwing away the vegetables, fruits, and snacks forced on them by
the new federal nutrition standards.
The government’s new school lunch requirements championed
by First Lady Michelle Obama are wasting $4 million a day in discarded food
that children won’t eat.


A new Harvard study of the program, “shows that 60
percent of fresh vegetables and 40 percent of fresh fruit are being thrown
away.” And a recent study released by the National School Nutrition
Association found 81.2 percent of schools surveyed indicated an increase in the
amount of food being thrown away by students since the new nutrition standards
went into effect two years ago.


Is there light at the end of the checkout line? Perhaps,
but innovation is slow to be adopted, unless the government mandates it. There
are other options, though. One company is already making a difference—OrderLunches.com.
The company was
created in 2006 to replace the complicated task of organizing and managing
school lunch programs. Schools can now eliminate the endless hours spent
managing paper processes or using other online systems that simply just don’t
work. Busy parents get to pre-order their kids meals, know what they’re eating
at school and get rid of the morning chaos.


Helping
schools nationwide connect with local restaurants, caterers or on-site cooks to
build strong partnerships that keep kids healthy & parents happy is the
mission of this company. More details about this resource is available at this
website: http://www.orderlunches.com/how-it-works/
.


Do
school lunch programs work? Yes, for the most part. However, figuring out the
secret sauce to avoid waste and still provide nutritious food at an affordable price
is a huge challenge. Kids will be kids, though. If they don’t like it, they won’t
eat it. The best option is to continue to find ways to help children and teens
eat healthy food. That is a big part of the education process. Perhaps schools
can sneak that curriculum in somewhere between home economics and gym class.