USA Today Offers Two Views on Improving School Food

by Bettina Elias Siegel on April 12, 2011

USA Today has an op-ed this morning entitled “Want Fries With That?  Not  at These Schools.”  In it, the newspaper is critical of those, like the School Nutrition Association (which represents school food directors), who worry that the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 is underfunded and that schools will not be able to meet its mandates without more time and more money than the six cent increase allowed by Congress.  Says USA Today:

This ignores the fact that there is no more money, and delay is the enemy when it comes to childhood nutrition.

All the players would do better keeping Congress’ mandates in place and looking to the schools that are already doing it right.

Instead, the paper highlights schools like one in St. Paul which uses a central kitchen to bake breads from scratch or one in Denver which used the services of school food consultant Kate Adamick (interviewed by TLT here) to greatly improve its menus.

As a counterpoint, Dana Woldow was asked to submit her  views, which appear in a shorter piece entitled “Pay Now or Pay More Later.”  In it, the veteran school food reformer points out that:

While some school districts already serving better food might appear to be “doing more with less,” they usually have extra funding or costly resources, such as a central kitchen for scratch cooking, which other districts lack. In reality, they are “doing more with more.”

It all goes back to a question that’s been debated hotly on this blog for a long time (see “Why I Rained on Someone’s School Food Reform Parade” and the posts linked to it):  can a school district ever “get it right” using just the federal reimbursement rate? Or, if you dig deeper at a “miracle” school, will you always find that there’s some outside or community raised funding, such as the $2 million San Francisco USD gives to subsidize the the reforms Dana Woldow and her peers have brought about, or the outside, community funding Chef Ann Cooper is seeking in Boulder, CO?

Moreover, no two districts face the same issues — some are small, with lower labor costs and a population that can support a higher price for lunch, and some are huge, comprised of mostly kids on free and reduced price lunch, and in an area where unionized workers can demand more pay.  Some have huge central kitchens (like Houston’s, which cost $52 million to build), and some have seen their cooking facilities reduced to equipment that can only heat and serve.

No one loves school food success stories more than I do, but I agree with Dana that they need to be taken in context so we can learn which miracles can be reproduced elsewhere and which cannot.

 

 

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

SNA President Nancy Rice April 12, 2011 at 1:10 pm

School Nutrition Association (SNA) supports strengthening nutrition standards for school meals, but even the best nutrition standards will fall flat if schools cannot afford to meet them.

USDA’s proposed rule would increase the cost of preparing a school lunch by 15 cents and a school breakfast by 51 cents. Yet, Congress has only provided school cafeterias with six cents more for each lunch (and no extra funds for breakfast). No additional support is being provided to schools that struggle with limited and antiquated equipment for preparation and storage, and high labor and training costs. SNA’s comments to the proposed rule still call for significant improvements to school meals, but at a pace and a price tag that are more realistic and achievable.

SNA members are school nutrition professionals, and as TLT and Ms. Woldow have pointed out, every one of their school meal programs faces different challenges. SNA is constantly promoting school meal success stories to our members so they can learn from their peers in other districts, and we provide training and educational resources to help them improve the meals they serve. But at the end of the day, before a school can set up a salad bar, they have to secure the funds to purchase the equipment, have adequate space in the cafeteria to house this new serving line, a lunch period long enough for elementary school students to build their salad and eat it, and staff to keep the salad bar stocked and sanitary.

School Nutrition Association President Nancy Rice, M.Ed., RD, LD, SNS

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H_O_G_ April 12, 2011 at 2:07 pm

When a school district labels “french fries” as a vegetable, it means it’s time for those educational degrees to be turned in for nutritional degrees. None of the statistics should be surprising: A healthy meal will enable a child to function better in the classroom. Add some exercise and the results are even better. If a school district added growing veggies into the curriculum, biology scores would rise. Make that garden dedicated to the troops, call it a VICTORY GARDEN, and you can add history. The budget for food would lower if the veggies are grown at school. Indoor growing during winter months. Imagine children EXCITED about their science class? Reading, writing, data collection, journals, prediction/hypothesis, comparative data collection, photo journals, video journals, art/drawing/painting…the ideas are limitless… could all be incorporated! It’s a win/win….duh

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Diane April 13, 2011 at 9:35 am

People have to understand that school lunches are served 179 meals out of 1056 meals a year. Where do and what do they eat the rest of the time. In Europe , the fast food and funk food are twice as high as the healthy foods. Here in the U. S. the funk , fast food is the cheapest and the heathy is the most expensive. If we are to fee kids better lunches than lower the price of the health foods. Is the government going to regulate the restaurant and the fast food places?

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