As a mother and a grandmother, and as a school nutrition professional who has served at the local, state and national levels, I know the unique challenges and rewards that come along with helping to raise children—particularly when it comes to good nutrition.
Feeding kids, and feeding them well, can be tough, but I am proud to say that with the strong support of parents, our schools are making a real difference in the health of our nation’s children.
We at USDA have been working closely with schools during the transition to the updated meals. We have listened to school nutrition professionals, teachers, administrators, parents and students themselves. We have made tweaks and changes to the new meals along the way, based on feedback from their real world experiences.
That is why I am so pleased and excited to announce that we have made permanent the flexibility that allows schools to serve larger portions of lean protein and whole grains at mealtime, a decision applauded by school nutrition professionals and Congressional leadership alike.
While this flexibility has been available to schools on a temporary basis since 2012, making it permanent provides schools and industry with needed stability for long-term planning.
This is great news for schools, but our work is far from over. Kids are now getting more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy—all in proper portion sizes—at breakfast and lunch. Next year, schools will begin the process of implementing Smart Snacks in Schools.
As we continue the journey towards a healthier school food environment, schools will need our continued support as they upgrade needed cafeteria equipment, supported in part by recently-announced $11 million in USDA grants; build stronger relationships with local farmers and ranchers through farm to school grants and program support, which helps to invest more than $350 million back into local economies; and continue to find innovative ways to get kids to try and like new foods, just like these schools across the country.
As the new year begins, I want to reiterate USDA’s continued commitment to supporting schools and cafeteria professionals as they strive to instill healthy habits in our nation’s young people. This year marks the third anniversary of healthier school lunches and the first year students will be served only healthy snacks at school. I am proud of how far we’ve come and excited to see where we’ll go in 2014.