This morning I read this guest post by Lisa Suriano over at the Better DC School Food blog. In it, Suriano describes the school lunch program in Rome, Italy — one that is vastly different from our own.
The city of Rome serves 150,000 school meals daily — comparable to the Dallas, TX school district, for example – yet it manages to make 96% of those meals from scratch and 70% of the ingredients are organic. Strict standards ensure the freshness of the produce and the meat and an effort is made to use cheeses and other products that are local to the region.
Of course, not surprisingly, such meals costs far more than we currently spend on school food in America. A Rome meal, which includes lunch and a snack, costs $6.56, versus the $2.68 which the U.S. federal government spends on a lunch served to a child who qualifies for a free meal. But Rome, unlike the U.S., has rightly recognized that increased spending on child nutrition means decreased health care spending down the road.
One thing I found interesting is that in Rome, NO outside food is allowed in school lunch rooms. This includes the odious “a la carte” offerings we have here in the U.S., but also includes food brought by the student from home. That is, no one is allowed to opt out of the Rome school lunch program, even with a brown bag lunch. No doubt this idea would never fly here in the U.S. (can you imagine the Tea Party uproar?), but I have noted that in a successful and healthful private school lunch program that operates here in Houston, the exact same rule applies.
While you’re mourning the fact that your kids aren’t eating in a Rome school every day, add this depressing thought to the mix: according to Suriano, due to political shifts in Rome, these hard-won changes to its school lunch program may not even last.