Your Monday Kids and Food News Round-Up

by Bettina Elias Siegel on September 16, 2013

As is often the case, sometimes there’s so much news out there that I have to share it all in one post!  Here goes:

Michelle Obama Muddies the Waters

The latest campaign from Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, which encourages Americans to drink more water, is being glassofwatermet with howls by food policy critics.  With her characteristic insight and concision, Marion Nestle explains why the Drink Up! campaign leaves much to be desired.

Chef Ann Cooper Defends Healthier School Meals

Last week, school food reformer Dana Woldow published an excellent take-d0wn of a widely circulated AP story that left most readers with the impression that the new healthier school meal standards are a big flop.  Woldow’s post got a lot of traction, including a share by Mark Bittman of the New York Times, and it also led other writers and advocates to publicly defend the improved lunch program.  One of those advocates is Chef Ann Cooper, aka The Renegade Lunch Lady.  Please take a moment to read her U.S. News & World Report piece, which urges us all to take the long view when it comes to changing the eating habits of a generation of kids.

Boston Institutes Universal Free School Meals

I’m belatedly reporting that at the start of the school year, Boston Public Schools announced that it will be providing free breakfast and lunch to all of its students, regardless of income status.  In doing so, Boston is taking advantage of the “community eligibility option” in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which allows schools with relatively high populations of socioeconomically disadvantaged students (40% or more) to do away with individual paperwork filings and simply provide free meals to all.  (This option has been granted to a handful of states since the passage of the HHFKA, and will be open to all qualifying schools and districts in the next school year.)

Why Shaming Hungry Kids Is a Bad Idea

Quite a few of you shared with me this recent interview on Fox News in which a school counselor said it was fine to deprive students of their lunch to create a “teaching moment” for parents who had neglected to refill their lunch accounts.   The interview was in response to a letter sent home by the Willingboro, NJ school district informing parents that children with empty lunch accounts would see their meals dumped in the trash.  Today on BeyondChron, Dana Woldow discusses the Willingboro incident, the very real problem of unpaid lunch tabs and what schools should do about it.

NRDC Takes on Food Additives

Many parents are worried about the possible effects of certain food additives on their children, and they’re often surprised to learn that the FDA does not test and approve each of the literally thousands of additives in our food supply.  Rather, a large percentage of these chemicals are allowed to be added to foods and beverages so long as manufacturers attest to the fact that they’re “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS.  (To learn more about this surprisingly lax system, I highly recommend Melanie Warner’s page-turner, Pandora’s Lunchbox.  My recent interview with Warner is here.)  Now the National Resources Defense Council is getting involved in a new campaign to strengthen FDA’s oversight.  You can read more on Politico here.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Maggie September 16, 2013 at 7:33 pm

Re: Ann Cooper’s article.

“The purpose of school food programs is not to make money.” –
True, but I would think in most cases it is expected that school food programs at least be self supporting. I would suspect that few districts have the financial assets to pull money from other programs to give to the food program if they are not self supporting.

Is there any way to change this outlook? It seems to me if the program is not financially stable, that is when districts tend to look to the outside contractors to make sure that the finances are a priority and are balanced.

Beyond that, solid ideas. Yet, I find myself thinking of the phrase “pick your battles”. Educating the students about food – yes! Great idea. Still, first, before asking for time to teach, I’d really like the students to be allowed enough time in the day to actually eat a meal! Much like money, time is a limited resource. Class time is valuable and changing longstanding views about the value of school meal programs is tough.

I can agree 100% about the final point – we don’t give up.

Reply

Bettina Elias Siegel September 17, 2013 at 8:41 am

Maggie, as always I appreciate your “real world” perspective as a school food professional. I agree with all you’ve said here and it’s also important to note that Chef Ann’s lunch program receives outside financial support.

But I love her overarching message (as you seem to, also) that we must set a reasonably high standard for school food and let kids learn to meet it, instead of assuming they’ll only eat junk food so there’s no point in even trying to improve school food.

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Sarah September 19, 2013 at 9:00 am

Actually the school food program is suppose to be self sustaining. Only under certain conditions can they take food from a school’s general fund and if so, must pay it back.

Reply

Juan Carlo Del Rosario September 30, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Amazing! This is good news! Study finds school breakfast is a key to future success! Well, that’s definitely true, school breakfast can have on a child’s perfomance in class and on standardized tests, and what this can mean for their future.

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