Later this month, Congress is expected to take up the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR), the every-five-year funding and reauthorization of child nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch Program.
As you know by now, the School Nutrition Association (SNA), the nation’s largest organization of school food professionals, is seeking to use the CNR to permanently weaken the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) nutritional standards for school meals (specifically, those relating to whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lower sodium) on the grounds that kids are spurning the healthier meals en masse.
But just yesterday, a new report was released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation which looked at the nutritional profile of more than 1.7 million school meals, selected by Washington state middle and high school students both before and after the implementation of the new meal standards. It found that after the healthier standards were in place, the overall nutritional quality of the foods chosen by students increased by 29 percent, and the calorie content per gram decreased by 13 percent. Significantly, the study also found no material difference in lunch program participation after meals became healthier: 47 percent of students participated before the new standards were in place and 46 percent of students participated after implementation.
It’s important to note that the study only looked at students’ purchasing behavior and not their actual consumption of the food selected. But its findings comport with other recent data and surveys supporting the healthier meal standards, including:
- A March, 2015 study finding that more students in an urban low-income school district took fruit with lunch and students ate more of their vegetables and entrees after the updated standards took effect;
- A July, 2014 survey of school leaders finding widespread student acceptance of healthier meals across all grade levels; and
- An October, 2014 poll which found that 72 percent of registered voter parents who have children in public schools nationwide favor strong nutrition standards for school foods, and that 91 percent support the specific requirement that schools include a fruit or vegetable serving with every meal.
I’ll of course share any CNR updates here.
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