School Nutrition: Congressional Briefings [PCRM]

The Physicians Committee [PCRM] recently hosted a series of congressional briefings on the state of school nutrition. Academic experts and public health professionals discussed how the changes in the school lunch program have impacted the nutritional content of what is on the tray and the importance of the school lunch and breakfast programs for addressing both food insecurity and a growing obesity epidemic among low-income children.

On April 23rd and July 1st, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine [PCRM] co-hosted congressional briefings on school lunch reform, urging a more plant-based diet. Sponsor Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado was present, along with Chef Ann Cooper who has come to be known as the Renegade Lunch Lady in light of her efforts to improve school nutrition programs in Boulder, CO. The esteemed group gathered in light of recent changes to national meal programs.

Jared Polis (Colorado Congressman) recently participated in a congressional briefing addressing School Nutrition     Renegade Lunch Lady Ann Cooper recently participated in a congressional briefing addressing School Nutrition

Jared Pollis; Colorado Congressman (left); Renegade Chef Ann Cooper (right).

This fall, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 will go into effect across the country. The new standards authorize funding for USDA nutrition programs aimed at promoting healthy eating habits for children. Additionally, access to lunch and breakfast programs will expand in high poverty communities.

Child Nutrition Reauthorization healthy, hunger-free kids act of 2010

Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 [pdf].

While the Act is widely viewed as a positive step, nutrition advocates fear that a provision in the 2015 Agriculture Appropriations Bill will weaken school nutrition standards. The waiver provides a pathway for schools to opt out of the Act if they find the standards exceed their budget, and some fear that this loophole may be taken advantage of by schools reluctant to adopt healthier meal standards.

Dr. Neal Barnard, PCRM president, encouraged legislators to oppose the House waiver so that school lunch reforms can pave the way for increased access to healthy meals including plant-based diets and non-dairy milk alternatives. Dr. Barnard pointed Congress to a Harvard study demonstrating that kids are eating more fruits and vegetables as a result of the new school lunch requirements, which went into full effect the day of the event.

Also present at the briefings was Darlene Moppert, M.S., R.D., who led Broward County Public Schools (BCPS) effort to improve access to plant-based options in cafeterias with help from PCRM. As the sixth-largest public school district in the nation, their implementation of nutritional lunch programs has received widespread praise. BCPS now serves one hot vegan meal per week and a vegan salad every day. Staff promote the menu options with interactive taste tests and have even taken the healthy lifestyle to the classroom with creative nutrition curricula. Although the program hasn’t received unanimous enthusiasm, district leaders note that children are increasingly opting for the healthier option when it is present simply because they enjoy the taste. Nutrition advocates see this as evidence that students are willing to adopt healthier lunches when given the choice.

School Nutrition; The State of the School Lunch Tray

School Nutrition: The State of the School Lunch Tray

A recent study by the CDC found that nearly 92 percent of children ages 2-19 consume fruits and vegetables in a 24-hour period. However, the authors of the study are quick to point out its limitations. Preparation style of the vegetables was not considered. For example, french fries would be considered a vegetable despite the nutritional deficiencies.

Interestingly, researchers found that fruit and vegetable consumption declined with age, noting lower levels in diets of adults.

Amid a push to reform school lunch standards this suggests that many students are ready to adapt healthier diets, which is a promising sign for nutrition advocated who feel that school lunches are jeopardizing the health of our youth.

Related Links:

Congressional Briefing: The State of Nutrition on the School Lunch Tray [2014-04-23 Briefing; News Release incl. Videos] [PCRM]
Congressional Briefing: The State of Nutrition on the School Lunch Tray [2014-04-23 Briefing; Report] [PCRM]
From Boulder to NYC: Meeting and Exceeding School Lunch Requirements [2014-07-01 Briefing; Report incl. Videos] [PCRM]
Healthy School Lunch Campaign [PCRM]