"Public School Meat" by cowboy_montgomery via flickr
We've reported about the lack of nutrition in school meal programs before, and a new study backs us up. The study, by California Food Policy Advocates (CFPA) and Samuels & Associates (S&A;), gives the USDA's child nutrition commodity program a failing grade.
The USDA program aims to "support American agricultural producers by providing cash reimbursements for meals served in schools and other child nutrition institutions." And while this may be good for commodity farmers, the program study, which focuses on California, finds that the way the program is implemented may not be so good for school kids.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture currently provides school districts with more than 180 different commodity food items per year valued at approximately $1 billion,3 which makes the commodity program the largest single source of foods for schools. The nutritional quality of the foods ordered by schools through the commodity program, however, is particularly alarming. While commodity foods comprise only 20 percent of the school meal, they set the tone for the entire meal. For instance, many meals are planned around the high-fat foods ordered through the commodities program, turning them into pizza, chicken nuggets and other processed foods.
The study goes on to recommend solutions to help children receiving food from the program benefit from the food offered.
Dietary Guidelines for Americans should be reflected in School Meal Initiative Standards, and schools should have to meet them. Efforts to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables and decrease the amount of meats and processed foods purchased for school meals would contribute to providing students with much healthier foods.
Full Federal Child Nutrition Commodity Program Nutritional Quality Report (pdf)
::Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
More on Food in Schools
Locally Grown Food in School Lunch Programs
The Green Bag Lunch Program: Destined For The Masses?