School lunches play a vital role in feeding and nourishing America’s children. More than 30 million of the nation’s children eat at least one meal a day at school. There is an opportunity, then, for schools to not only provide healthy food to children, but to help teach healthy eating habits that will promote lifelong health.
To make it easier for schools to promote healthy eating habits, the University of California’s Global Food Initiative has launched a Good Food for Local Schools website. The site is a portal that links to a comprehensive and impressive array of resources, including curriculum, best practices for school lunch operations, policy models and research. It includes resources from UC – including all 10 campuses and UC’s division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (which is home to the 4-H, Master Gardener and CalFresh Nutrition Education programs). Resources from other organizations – including the Edible Schoolyard – are also included.
As a garden educator (schools, after school settings and the Master Gardener program), I enjoyed the opportunity to dive into this new website. It’s a great one-stop shop for those interested in nutrition, school food policy and gardening.
While the primary audience is those working with pre-K through grade 12 students, there are terrific resources for college and community audiences as well. The website could also serve as an excellent tool for families who are interested in learning more about good food, nutrition and healthy lifestyles. Bonus: there are links to gardening information! Two (green) thumbs up.
History of the National School Lunch Program
The UC Food Observer has written a number of posts about the importance of the national school lunch program. A little about the history of the program: President Harry Truman signed the National School Lunch Act into law in 1946. This created the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). The NSLP provides free and low-cost meals to American school children. A primary goal of the program has been to improve childhood nutrition.
At its outset, the NSLP was framed “as a measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities” (Section 2 of the Act).
Read more about the link between the food system and national security.
Leading Experts Share Thoughts about Children and Nutrition
Last year, Chef Ann Cooper – the Renegade Lunch Lady – shared this thought about children and nutrition:
“There is nothing more important to national security than the health of our children. We really need to change the political discussion to focus on the health of our children. We’re spending a tremendous amount of money as a nation treating diabetes and obesity each year: about a quarter of a trillion dollars. We could improve the health of our children, the economy and the environment by improving how we feed our children.”
Read the full Q&A with Chef Ann Cooper here.
Hunger expert Dr. Jan Poppendieck spoke to the UC Food Observer at length in 2016. She shared these thoughts about the nation’s school food program:
“I have two major concerns with the school food program. They are the traditional concerns of social policy analysts: access and quality. We haven’t invested enough to serve really high quality meals. Recent standards and attention have helped. But there remains a low investment level that pushes schools towards using industrialized, pre-processed food. On the quality front, we need to invest more per meal.
On the access front, I’m even more convinced than ever that we need to move towards universal, free school meals. The part of the means tested school meals that originally engaged me was the stigma that qualifying imposed on children and families. The stigma migrates from the child to the food. So in school communities, food may come to be perceived as second quality, even if it’s pretty good. Kids call it welfare, county or jail food. Being associated with poverty undermines the reputation of the food. I hear it from food service directors from all over the country, all the time. In New York they call it “free-free.”
Read the full interview here.
You may also be interested in reading:
National Farm to School Network