An Encouraging School Food Story From Maine

Earlier this week, I received this lovely email:

Hello Bettina,

Our entire office follows your blog, we love your perspective and energy.

Your recent posts inspired us to send an opinion piece to our our local paper, which resulted in today’s front page story about Maine’s successful implementation the current nutrition standards.

We just wanted to pass along and share our support for the standards.

Sincerely,

The Let’s Go! team

Please take a minute to read the Portland Press Herald article and learn about Let’s Go!, a public/private partnership of health organizations helping Maine successfully implement — and exceed — the new federal school meal standards.

From the Portland Press Herald:

So far about 93,000 schoolchildren, more than half the total public school population in Maine, are eating Let’s Go! lunches that exceed federal nutrition standards. Compared with the national average, Maine has more than triple the percentage of schools that have achieved a “U.S. Healthier Schools” designation – meaning schools that served meals well above the federal nutrition minimums.

Accounts like these (and my post on Monday about the USDA Team Up program) show that successfully meeting the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act standards is entirely possible when schools receive adequate support.  So let’s put our effort into finding and funding that support — instead of rolling back the nutritional standards which improve kids health.

Thanks to the Let’s Go team for taking the time to write and sharing your story.  You made my day!  :-)

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 10,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join 5,600 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing to my posts. You can download my FREE 40-page guide to “Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom” and be sure to check out my free rhyming video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!

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Is “Clean Label” School Food a Pipe Dream?

civil eats logoWe’d all like to see school food with fewer chemical additives, but is it realistic to expect districts to serve only “clean label” school food?

That’s the question I explore today in a post on Civil Eats.  I hope you’ll check it out, and please feel free to leave a comment on the post.  I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 10,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join 5,600 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing to my posts. You can download my FREE 40-page guide to “Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom” and be sure to check out my free rhyming video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!

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Sneaking Vegetable Pureés Into School Food?

yuckvegetablesI have a tortured relationship with food-sneaking — the practice of surreptitiously slipping vegetable pureés into kids’ food to bolster their nutritional intake.

In a 2010 post, “To Sneak or Not to Sneak: Hiding Healthful Ingredients in Kids’ Food,” I expressed my ambivalence this way:

Maybe it’s just a sense that I’m violating the basic trust that ought to exist between any cook and any diner:  if you know I have an aversion to a certain food (rightly or wrongly), is it fair to nonetheless slip it into my meal?

But three years later, in “Learn From My Mistakes: A Story of Food Sneaking Gone Horribly Awry,” I described how, after buying a Vitamix blender, I just couldn’t resist slipping some carrots into my veggie-avoiding son’s smoothie.  Here’s what happened:

… my carrot-hating son took a sip and actually said, “This is the BEST juice ever!  You can make this for me every day if you want.”

Wow!  The script was playing out just like the movie in my head, only better!  All I had to do was keep my mouth shut and start planning tomorrow’s kale and spinach – oops, I mean “green apple” — smoothie.

But, dear readers, I just couldn’t do it.  One look at that sweet, trusting face and I felt utterly wracked with guilt.  If you have an aversion to eating snails but I just know you’d love escargots if only you’d try them, do I have the right pass them off to you as mushrooms?  Even if you’re my own child, I think I do not.  And as hard as it is for me to understand it, the feeling many people have about eating snails — utter disgust — is exactly how my son feels about eating carrots.

So I took a deep breath and confessed.  It told him I’d added “a little bit” of carrot, hoping he’d remember it was the “BEST juice ever” and just move on.

Well, he did not move on.  He looked totally distressed – almost to he point of tears – and then quite angrily reminded me that I’d once told him I was not the kind of mom who would ever sneak things into his food.  And what could I say?  He was absolutely right.  I’d been a complete hypocrite.  And of course he wouldn’t take another sip of the juice.

Since then, I’ve never again engaged in true sneaking, which I define as secretly adding a vegetable pureé to a recipe that otherwise would never call for it, like putting spinach in brownies.  (I do, however, continue to work as many veggies as I can into our meals, such as using a heavy hand with fresh herbs, onions and mushrooms in a pasta dish.)

I was thinking about all of this when I read in the School Nutrition Association‘s latest Smart Brief newsletter about a pilot study in which schools added a pureé of beans, tomato paste and carrots to school food entreés in order to boost their nutritional content.  The results of the study won’t surprise any parent who’s engaged in veggie-sneaking at home:  up to a point, kids didn’t detect the recipe change but once the amount of added pureé passed a certain threshold, kids started rejecting the entreé.  The study authors concluded that “adding puréed vegetables to lunch entrées may be an effective strategy to increase vegetable consumption and reduce energy intake of elementary school children. School nutrition programs can benefit by helping meet vegetable and nutrient requirements and reducing plate waste.”

Putting aside the difficulties some schools would face in adding pureés — specifically, a lack of equipment and labor — I decided that I’m actually OK — I think?? — with veggie-sneaking in the school context.  To my mind, it’s somehow different to slip carrots past my son at home when I know he hates carrots, but if he took a carrot-filled entreé off an impersonal lunch line, then no one is knowingly breaching his trust.  The school is just serving a dish as it chooses — and it chooses to include carrot pureé.

That said, I do have one big caveat.  Whether at home or at school, food sneaking should never be a substitute for also serving vegetables in their whole state, or else children will never grow to like these critically important foods in their own right.  So while I’d be fine with sneaking carrot puree into school pizza sauce, I would be very troubled if districts used that practice to meet their federal “red/orange vegetable” requirement, rather than serving items like baby carrots or roasted sweet potatoes. Given the budgetary constraints schools are under, maybe that caveat alone would make veggie-sneaking unattractive to schools.

So what do you think of all this?  Are my views about veggie-sneaking as muddled and illogical as ever?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 10,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join 5,600 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing to my posts. You can download my FREE 40-page guide to “Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom” and be sure to check out my free rhyming video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!

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Good News and Bad News in the Battle Over Healthy School Food

I said I wasn’t going to post on TLT while at Expo West, where I’ll be speaking later today, but this school food news is too important not to share.

STUDY:  Kids Eating More Fruit at School, Wasting Less Food

Eat Five Fruit and Vegetables Per DayFirst, the good news.  A new study from the UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity has just been released, and the study title says it all:  “New School Meal Regulations Increase Fruit Consumption and Do Not Increase Total Plate Waste.”

After looking at school meal consumption both before and after the new healthier standards were put into place, the researchers summarized their findings this way:

Students responded positively to the new lunches. They consumed more fruit, threw away less of the entrees and vegetables, and consumed the same amount of milk. Overall, the revised meal standards and policies appear to have significantly lowered plate waste in school cafeterias.

The Rudd study, when paired with similar findings from a previous Harvard School of Public Health study, make a very strong case that we must stay the course on the new healthier school meal standards.

The SNA Shows its Hand:  “Flexibility is Free”

And now the bad news.

Last week I asked a question in this blog post: Is the School Nutrition Association’s Request for More School Funding a Priority — or a Ploy?  In other words, while I’m pleased that the SNA has finally decided to ask Congress for more money for school food, I’ve been worried that, in reality, the organization will instead devote all of its lobbying efforts to no-cost rollbacks of school nutrition standards.  And if a Congressional representative is presented with the choice of coming up with more funding versus a free “solution,” which is he or she likely to support?

Well, it looks like my concerns were fully justified.  In a piece on Politico Pro (subscription only) earlier this week, food policy reporter Helena Bottemiller Evich asked SNA President Julia Bauscher about the SNA’s funding request and was told:

she is not optimistic about such a funding increase.

Rather, Bauscher is more confident in achieving success on two of SNA’s asks, on [rolling back standards for] whole grains and sodium . . . .

“We all know what the federal government’s budget’s like — we’re not going to get any more money,” said Bauscher, adding: “We at least need to make the point that we need more money…and flexibility is free.”

Yes, it’s true that “flexibility” – the SNA’s cynical euphemism for ignoring science-based child nutrition standards – is free. But here’s what isn’t “free:” the future healthcare costs for a generation of children which has been nutritionally shortchanged, if the SNA has its way.

Once again, if you are a current or former SNA member who disagrees with your organization’s current legislative agenda, please show your support for healthier school meals by signing and sharing this open letter.  Thank you.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 10,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join 5,500 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing to my posts. You can download my FREE 40-page guide to “Getting Junk Food Out of Your Child’s Classroom” and be sure to check out my free rhyming video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!

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While We Were Out: A Kid/Food News Round-Up

while you were celebratingHappy 2015, TLT’ers!  

I think I forgot to mention here that I was taking a hiatus from blogging, but if you happened to notice my three weeks of silence on TLT, you probably figured that out.  :-)

My blogging break started in late December, when I had the pleasure of attending (and speaking at) a conference in Washington, DC arranged by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Pew Charitable Trusts.  It was a gathering of the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity “Council of States,” which meant I had the chance to meet and talk with leading food policy advocates from all over the country.  For someone who usually does this sort of work alone at her kitchen table, it was an incredibly stimulating and educational two days, so huge thanks to CSPI and the Pew Charitable Trusts for inviting me to attend!

And now here’s a round-up of some of the kid/food news you may have missed while you were relaxing and celebrating with your families:

More On Home-Packed vs. Cafeteria Lunches

Another study has found that home-packed lunches are, statistically speaking, nutritionally subpar as compared to cafeteria lunches.  I addressed another study’s similar findings back in July and my take is this: school meals may well be superior to home packed lunches from a “nutritionism” standpoint, in that every nutrient in school meals is analyzed and accounted for.  But a myopic focus on nutrients can still result in a very highly processed, chemical-filled meal that many parents choose to avoid. That said, for parents with few resources or little nutrition education, school lunch is no doubt vastly superior to home packed lunches, if a lunch can even be packed at all.  That’s why I so strongly support the National School Lunch Program and will continue to work hard to defend the new, healthier school meal standards.

Which leads us to….

Republican Congress Gearing Up to Weaken School Nutrition Standards

We’ve certainly known this was coming, but Helena Bottemiller Evich of Politico has written an informative preview of how the new, Republican-controlled Congress is planning on rolling back several key Obama administration food policy initiatives, including improvements to school food.  This is a serious challenge for school food advocates, and we’ll be talking more about it in the weeks and months ahead.

Maybe Family Dinner Isn’t So Endangered After All

Or so says the Washington Post.

Getting Junk Food Out of Classroom Parties

Out of concern over student health and food allergies, several school districts in Pennsylvania clean up their classroom parties.  (Hat tip: SNA Smart Brief)

Is Fast Food Adversely Affecting Children’s Brains?

A study discussed in the Washington Post (and many other news outlets) found an inverse correlation between children’s fast food consumption and their test scores, even when factors like socioeconomic status were ruled out.  What was most astonishing to me was this troubling 2008 statistic cited in the WashPo story: “Nearly a third of American kids between the ages of 2 and 11 — and nearly half of those aged 12 to 19 — eat or drink something from a fast food restaurant each day.”

Does the Timing of Recess Reduce School Food Waste?

It’s long been believed that allowing kids to take recess before lunch leads to greater fruit and vegetable consumption and less food waste, but a new study reported on by Reuters says otherwise.

Coming Soon: The Lunch Tray’s Makeover!

Finally, before the month is out I’ll be unveiling an entirely new look for The Lunch Tray.  I’ve been working on the design with the super-talented Rita Barry, aka Blog Genie, and while I might be a tad biased, I think it’s just so pretty.   :-)  In connection with the blog’s relaunch I’ve also created lots of helpful new resources which I can’t wait to share with you.  Stay tuned.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 9,200 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join over 5,200 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing here. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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#Thanks4RealMichelleObama

You may have already heard about a new Twitter hashtag that’s making national news: disgruntled kids are taking photos of their unappetizing school lunches and sharing them on Twitter with a sarcastic #thanksmichelleobama.  A recent Buzz Feed post about the trend has already received an astonishing two million views.

Some of the photos shared by students are indeed stomach-turning.  This one in particular has received a lot of attention, for obvious reasons:

gross lunch
click on the photo to enlarge

I have a few things to say about all this:

  • First, a word to the kids tweeting these photos.  Um, guys, you know Michelle Obama’s not actually in your school kitchen, right?  The First Lady supports common sense nutrition standards, like “kids need more fruits and vegetables,” but she has nothing to do with school menus (that would be your district) and she’s never instructed anyone to put disgusting glop on your tray.  Whoever prepared the travesty pictured above probably should be publicly shamed — but that person isn’t Michelle Obama.
  • This isn’t the first time photos of unappetizing school food have gone viral; last year I wrote a post (“School Food Gets Its Close-Up, But Is It a Fair One?”) about another, similar campaign.  Kids griping about school food is a time-honored tradition that’s likely been going on for as long as we’ve had school food, and certainly well before we had cell phones, but that doesn’t mean all school meals are bad.  In fact, some are pretty great.
  • As I wrote in the post mentioned above, if you’re using a cell phone camera to make food look as disgusting as possible, you’re likely to succeed.  Even when I use my cell phone camera to make food look good, I sometimes fail miserably. Here’s an Indian dinner I once cooked for my family including chana masala, whole wheat naan, homemade raita and chutney:

IMG_2561

You’ll have to take my word for it when I say this meal was delicious, but I’m guessing few of you would want to try it based on this photo.  And you can imagine how much worse this nutritious, home-cooked and mostly organic meal would have looked slopped onto a styrofoam tray and photographed under a cafeteria’s fluorescent lights, especially if the photographer were trying to make it look terrible.

  • Here’s another example.  This #thanksmichelleobama photo appeared in the New York Daily News and many other outlets and, at first glance, it looks awful.
click on the photo to enlarge
click on the photo to enlarge

But if you take a minute, you’ll realize you’re looking at some pretty benign refried beans with melted cheese, next to a tortilla.  I happen to live in Tex-Mex country and can tell you that no extreme close-up of refried beans (especially when served with an ice-cream scoop) is ever going to look much better than that.

  • But what annoys me most about the #thanksmichelleobama hashtag is how, predictably, it’s been seized upon by some on the political right in their never-ending campaign to demonize the First Lady for – gasp! – supporting science-based nutritional standards for school food.  These standards were not her creation; rather, they were recommended by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and are considered the “gold standard for evidence-based health analysis.” And, by the way, when Congress authorized the USDA to improve school food (which led the USDA to commission the IOM report), the sitting president at the time wasn’t Democrat Barack Obama.  It was Republican George W. Bush.

Now let me tell you why I’m saying, without a trace of sarcasm and with profound gratitude, #Thanks4RealMichelleObama:

  • In 2010, Congress passed the most sweeping overhaul of school food in decades, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA).  That landmark event might not have happened without the First Lady’s determined and vocal support of the law in the months leading up to its passage.
  • Under the HHFKA, kids are now being served less sodium, fat and sugar and more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, all of which is consistent with those IOM recommendations.  Those changes are critical if this and future generations are to reverse current trends toward obesity and diet-related disease.
  • According to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, “Our nation’s schools and schoolchildren are thriving under the new standards. School lunch revenue is up.”
  • A recent Harvard School of Public Health study showed that kids are now eating 16 percent more vegetables and 23 percent more fruit at lunch — and that figure is likely to go up significantly as the new standards become more familiar to students over time.
  • A peer-reviewed study in Childhood Obesity found that, after initial complaints, kids now actually like the healthier school food.  It also found that among socioeconomically disadvantaged schools (where school meals are of obvious, critical importance), administrators perceived that “more students were buying lunch and that students were eating more of the meal than in the previous year.”
  • Under the HHFKA’s direct certification and community eligibility provisions, more economically disadvantaged kids than ever now have easy access to school food, which for many is their primary source of daily nutrition.

If you’re a Twitter user and agree that these significant accomplishments are worthy of some gratitude, please click here to automatically send this message to the First Lady, or use my hashtag #Thanks4RealMichelleObama with your own text:

Thanks @FLOTUS for championing healthier school food for all kids! http://ctt.ec/X418t+   #Thanks4RealMichelleObama #thanksmichelleobama

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 9,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join over 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing here. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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What the Midterm Elections Mean for School Food

Whether you voted red, blue or purple in this week’s midterm elections, you and your viewpoints are always welcome on The Lunch Tray.

But there are times when political partisanship directly impacts the kid-and-food issues I cover and, unfortunately, that’s the case for school food reform.  As the New York Times reported in a recent Sunday Magazine feature story, “How School Lunch Became the Latest Political Battleground,” the School Nutrition Association has aligned itself with Congressional Republicans to roll back some key nutritional improvements to school food.  Now that Republicans have control of both the House and Senate, it seems all the more likely that the SNA will succeed in this effort.

The mechanism for gutting school food reform in the short term likely will be the appropriations process. As Politico‘s Morning Agriculture report observed yesterday:

Now that they’ve secured the Senate, Republicans have a clear avenue for doing away with . . . the USDA’s new school lunch standards: spending legislation.

By 4:30 a.m. EST today, even with many individual contests unknown, it was apparent the GOP had wrested away control of the Senate from the Democrats and gained even more control in the House. Now it’s time for Congress to get back to work, and a top priority, when both chambers open for business again on the Hill next week, will be to address the current short-term spending bill that only funds the government through Dec. 11.

In all four approaches available to Congress for passing spending legislation, the GOP would have an opportunity to attach riders that could sink their least favorite Obama initiatives – either by defunding or otherwise weakening key policies.

Historically, the federal school lunch program has had bipartisan support.  This makes sense given that all of us, no matter our political persuasion, have a stake in nourishing the next generation well.  But now many powerful forces are aligned against school food reform:  the processed food industry, which has a huge financial stake in the program and powerful lobbyists on Capitol Hill;  the need of school districts to make their meal programs break even; First Lady Michelle Obama’s vocal support of school food reform, which has politicized the issue for some conservatives hoping to score political points;  and conservatives’ general distrust of “big government.”  (See also this 2011 TLT post: “Why Is Childhood Obesity a Red State/Blue State Issue?“)

But it might be worth stepping back and remembering that the nutritional standards now at risk  — more whole grains, lower sodium, more fruits and vegetables — were not the brainchild of President Obama, Michelle Obama or government bureaucrats.  They were science-based recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, recommendations which were referred to at the time of their release as representing the “gold standard for evidence-based health analysis.”

Adhering to these standards is inarguably better for children’s immediate and long-term health.  Period.  And that’s what’s getting lost in this political fight.

Those of us who support robust school food reform must do our best to have our voices are heard on this issue and I’ll have more to say about that in the weeks ahead.  But, in the meantime, it’s all the more important that SNA members who disagree with their organization’s legislative agenda make their feelings known.  If you’re a current or former SNA member who supports the healthier school food standards, please sign and share this open letter.  The deadline for signatures is November 30th.  Thank you.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 9,000 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page, join over 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, or get your “Lunch” delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing here. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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Stunning and Perverse: SNA Challenges a Study Finding That Kids Like Healthier School Food

Imagine a restaurant getting a great review, only to have the chef call the newspaper to complain that the critic was sorely mistaken and the restaurant’s food isn’t as good as the review made it out to be.

That bizarre scenario was all I could think of when I received an email yesterday from the School Nutrition Association (SNA), relaying SNA president Julia Bauscher’s refutation of a new, peer-reviewed study in Childhood Obesity finding that kids actually like the healthier school food mandated by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA).

Specifically, University of Illinois at Chicago researchers asked school administrators at 537 elementary schools about their students’ reactions to school meals after the HHFKA’s nutritional improvements went into effect.  Just over half of the respondents said their students initially complained about nutritionally improved school meals, but 70% agreed their students now actually like the lunches.  Even more encouraging, the study found that at socioeconomically disadvantaged schools (where school meals are of obvious, critical importance to student health), administrators perceived that “more students were buying lunch and that students were eating more of the meal than in the previous year.”

For anyone who cares about school food reform and the health of America’s school children, these findings are great news.

But, perversely, this good news actually poses a serious threat to the SNA, the nation’s largest organization of school food professionals.  That’s because, despite having supported the HHFKA’s passage back in 2010, the SNA is now fighting vigorously to roll back in Congress many of the law’s key nutritional requirements — and it is doing so on the grounds that kids are allegedly rejecting healthier school food en masse.

The organization has so become entrenched in promoting this pessimistic view of student acceptance (despite contrary evidence from school districts around the country), that it raised eyebrows even among some of its own members by refusing to allow Sam Kass, former White House chef and Executive Director of Let’s Move!, to speak at its annual national conference in Boston last week.  And the SNA previously saw 19 of its past presidents break ranks in an open letter to Congress — an extraordinary, public display of the internal strife over the SNA’s current legislative agenda.

It was hard for me to imagine the situation getting much uglier, until yesterday’s email presented the truly bizarre spectacle of the very people dedicated to preparing healthful school meals seeking to discredit reliable evidence that kids actually like those meals.

I’m disgusted and saddened by this turn of events.  Back in May, I wrote a post (“School Food Professionals vs. Kids: How Did It Come to This?) to convey my respect and empathy for school food service directors (FSDs) around the country, who I sincerely believe have one of the hardest jobs imaginable.  Through no fault of FSDs, the National School Lunch Program, as it is currently conceived, often directly pits their legitimate financial concerns against the nutritional needs of the children they serve. But instead of trying to bridge that gap by fighting for funding and other support for struggling school districts, the SNA, which claims in its mission statement to be “committed to advancing the quality of school meal programs,” chose to take the easy way out.

Just imagine how differently things would look today if the SNA had decided to stay the course on healthier school food. Instead of engaging in an unseemly, public battle with the White House, the organization could be closely allied with a still-hugely popular First Lady to jointly advance the cause of improved school nutrition, able to take advantage of all the prime PR opportunities only someone like Michelle Obama can offer.  Instead of using its considerable muscle on Capitol Hill to weaken or kill hard-fought legislative gains, the SNA could be using its clout to push Congress into helping the schools that need it.  And instead of churlishly lobbing criticism at this latest school food study, it could rely on the study to support its efforts — as well as joining with the rest of us in celebrating what is, unequivocally, very good news.

Nonetheless, despite this study’s encouraging findings, I’ll be keeping my champagne on ice.  Because regardless of what happens with SNA’s desired one-year waiver language in the pending 2015 appropriations bill, the 2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) is looming large and the SNA clearly views the CNR as its best chance to permanently roll back key HHFKA nutrition standards relating to sodium, whole grains, fruits and vegetables and a la carte offerings.

So, all those elementary school kids* who grew accustomed to — and eventually grew to like — healthier school food?  If the SNA has its way, they might not be seeing it for much longer.

_________________

* Many of us in the school food reform world have long predicted that elementary school kids would be the first to come around to healthier school food because they haven’t had years of seeing junk food in their cafeterias. More here: “Putting My Money on the Class of 2024.”

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 8,600 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join almost 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, see my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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Politico Spotlights the Power of Consumer Food Petitions

Just FYI, this weekend’s lead story on Politico, “Food Fight: Consumers Revolt Online,” discusses the ever-growing impact of online petitions in changing our food supply.

The story features my successful Change.org petition in 2012 regarding the use of lean, finely textured beef (aka “pink slime”) in school food, and goes on to discuss subsequent petition campaigns on food-related issues.  The story is also slated to appear in Monday’s print version of the magazine.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join over 8,600 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join almost 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, see my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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My Houston Chronicle Op-Ed re: Saving School Lunch

For those interested, I have an editorial in today’s (Sunday) Houston Chronicle regarding the current school food controversy.

In it, I discuss how Texas (yes, Texas!) has been a leader in school nutrition, and how our congressional delegation should carry on that  proud tradition by rejecting language in the pending appropriations bill that would allow districts to opt out of improved school nutrition standards.

You can read the full text of the editorial here, and thanks to the Chron for giving me the opportunity to share my views with its readership.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 8,500 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join almost 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, see my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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Will Change in House Leadership Affect the School Food Debate? (And More Kid-Food News)

With all that’s going on in the kid-and-food world these days, I’m getting sucked back into my old five-day-a-week posting schedule against my will!  :-)  Here’s the latest:

SNA Asks For A Sit-Down with FLOTUS

The School Nutrition Association (SNA) has asked for a meeting with First Lady Michelle Obama and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to discuss school meal waivers. Because new school breakfast standards go into effect on July 1, the SNA characterizes its request for a meeting as “urgent.”  The full text of the SNA’s letter is here (hat tip: Politico Morning Ag).

Will New House Leadership Influence the Current School Food Fight?

Following the stunning primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the House yesterday elected Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to the position.  Today’s Politico Morning Ag reports that McCarthy’s election is being “well received” by the produce industry and:

it’s no wonder. The district he represents, the 23rd in California, includes the San Joaquin Valley, one of the most productive agricultural growing regions in the world. . . .

McCarthy “understands the importance of the fresh produce industry to his state’s economy and of the nation,” said Ray Gilmer, vice president of issues management and communication at the United Fresh Produce Association, in a statement to MA. “We look forward to working closely with the new House majority leader to address produce industry priorities on immigration reform, nutrition and other issues.”

Meanwhile, as you know, SNA is on record as championing a return to “offer versus serve” for produce in school meals (meaning that kids could pass up fruits and vegetables instead of being required to take them each day), a position that has been strongly opposed — for obvious reasons – by the produce industry.  Furthermore, if SNA’s current request for school meal waiver language in the  2015 appropriations bill is successful, schools obtaining such waivers are very likely to return to the old system, causing harm to the produce industry.

So could this change in House leadership tip the scales against SNA’s campaign for waiver language in the House appropriations bill?  This is just speculation on my part, but it seems possible.

Detroit’s School Food Director Makes the Case for No Waivers

Meanwhile, Betti Wiggins, executive director of the Detroit Public Schools Office of School Nutrition, makes the case for staying the course on healthier school food in the Detroit News.  It’s a strong op-ed worth reading.

FLOTUS Champions Home Economics Classes

The Wall Street Journal reports that the First Lady is working with the Department of Education to help schools provide kids with cooking literacy.  I’m thrilled to hear this, as a return of Home Economics is one of the key elements in the “Rx for Childhood Obesity” discussed this week in my post “A Pill Too Bitter to Swallow.” (BTW, that post is now on the HuffPo under a new title and in a slightly edited form.)

My “Rx for Childhood Obesity” – Now Free of Typos! 

And speaking of that “Rx,” I was mortified this morning when a TLT reader pointed out that my graphic misspelled, yes, the word “education.”  O.M.G.  Here’s a corrected version for anyone who still wants to share it.

rx

Have a great weekend, all.  More TLT coming your way next week.

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 8,500 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join almost 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, see my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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Do House Republicans Now Regret Picking a School Food Fight?

Maybe so.

In a piece published on SF Gate earlier this week, Carolyn Lochhead reports that repeated delays in the House on the school food waiver vote indicate to Democrats that:

Republicans have concluded they’re on the losing side of the school lunch fight, which has touched off a firestorm in Washington and schools across the country. . . .

“I think they pulled the bill because they didn’t know if they had enough of their own votes,” said Rep. Sam Farr of Carmel, the top Democrat on the House Appropriationsagriculture subcommittee, who is leading the fight against the waiver. “Members go home, they pick up from the newspapers the feedback of what’s happening in Washington, and I think the longer this issue is on front pages the more difficulty they have in passing their provision.”

If there really is a weakening of resolve among House Republicans, this means that grass roots efforts and negative press are working, so please keep up the pressure.  This recent Lunch Tray post contains several very easy steps you can take to show your support for healthier school meals, and most of them don’t take more than a few seconds.

Thank you!

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 8,500 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join almost 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, see my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

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A School Food News Round-Up

The House of Representatives won’t take up the controversial school food waiver issue until next week, but there’s still news to share regarding the fight over healthier school meals:

Former USDA Child Nutrition Director Resigns in Protest from School Nutrition Association

The Hagstrom Report (subscription only) reports that Stan Garnett, former director of child nutrition at the Agriculture Department, “has resigned from the School Nutrition Association over its efforts to encourage members to lobby Congress to pass a bill requiring the USDA to waive healthier school meal requirements to any school that says it has lost money in the program for six months.”

In an email obtained by the Hagstrom Report, Garnett reportedly told SNA’s CEO, Patti Montague:

I was very much offended by the personalized e-blast I received this week from the School Nutrition Association asking me to lobby my congressional delegation to vote for a waiver provision of the new nutritional standards for the school meals programs. . . .

As you know, I have been involved with these programs for many years and worked closely with SNA and other advocacy groups to expand and improve the programs. I felt we were always guided by the words in the Declaration of Policy in the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act, “TO SAFEGUARD THE HEALTH AND WELL-BEING OF THE NATION’S CHILDREN.”

Alice Waters: “The Fate of Our Nation Rests on School Lunches”

Pioneering chef, author and sustainable food activist Alice Waters makes an impassioned case in Time magazine not just for staying the course for healthier school food, but thinking bigger about feeding our nation’s children:

 The idea of school lunch as an egalitarian mechanism to nourish our nation’s potential has long been discarded and devalued. We are faced with an enormous crisis of health, education and inequality.

We need to have the courage and conviction to establish a nutritious, sustainable, free school-lunch program for all.

The incremental steps the First Lady has fought for, as valuable as they are, are never going to address the challenges we are facing.

More here.

More on Universal School Meals

While Waters and others have long advocated for universal (free for all) school meals, a provision of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is allowing communities with high rates of economically impoverished children to institute just that: meal programs that are free to all students, regardless of family income, with no paperwork required.  Matt Bruenig of Slate discusses “community eligibility” here, both its benefits and limitations.  And NPR discusses the difficulties New York City potentially faces if it takes advantage of the option.

Losing the Forest for the Trees?

Later this morning, I’ll have a guest post on Corporate Accountability International’s blog which steps back and offers a basic primer on the current school lunch battle: how we got here and where we may be headed.  The post isn’t up yet, but when it is I’ll add the link here and share it on the Lunch Tray’s Facebook page and Twitter feed.

[Ed. Update, 6/17/14 3:00pm CST: Post updated to change Patti Montague’s title from “president” to “CEO” and to add the link to my post on Corporate Accountability International’s blog.]

Do You Love The Lunch Tray? ♥♥♥ Then “like” The Lunch Tray! Join almost 8,500 TLT fans by liking TLT’s Facebook page (and then adding it to your news feed or interest lists) to get your Lunch delivered, along with bonus commentary, interesting kid-and-food links, and stimulating discussion with other readers. You can also join almost 5,000 TLT followers on Twitter, see my virtual bulletin boards on Pinterest and find selected TLT posts on The Huffington Post. And be sure to check out my free video for kids about processed food, “Mr. Zee’s Apple Factory!”

 

 

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