As schools across the country were winding down for the summer, the conversation around school meals standards was heating up. School districts, parents, community members and Congressional representatives have engaged in an important discussion about the role of the new standards in our nation’s National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs. Created to boost the health of our next generation, the standards encourage schools to get more creative and health-conscious about the food they serve to their students. Last month, USDA joined the National Hispanic Medical Association to reinforce this critical message.
During a Congressional briefing held by the National Hispanic Medical Association, dozens convened to learn how the Latino community was leveraging the new standards to support healthier lifestyles for their children. While the association focused on educational and healthcare institutions heightening awareness around nutrition programs, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service Western Regional Administrator, Jesus Mendoza, underscored the importance of healthy eating, emphasizing his experiences with the new standards in his region. “Since the passing of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act,” Mendoza explained, “kids are eating a lot more fruits and vegetables, 90 percent of schools report that they are able to abide by the standards, more water is being offered to our children in cafeterias, and we’re exposing kids to foods they’ve never seen or heard of before.”
The Administrator detailed the ways school meals programs affect families. He recalled a mother in San Diego thanking him for the program, not only because it reduced her already heavy workload, but because it encouraged her daughter to want to get to school early. Mendoza went on to describe the culturally appropriate foods he found in the cafeterias of Los Angeles County school districts and how much the kids enjoyed the healthy foods.
Many other nutritionists and dieticians attended the briefing, including National Dairy Council president Jean Regalie, “These children are our national treasures,” she said, addressing the need for a balanced, nutritious diet in a growing child’s life. Regalie stressed how essential partnerships were to mitigate childhood obesity, quoting an African Proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”
USDA has been standing alongside hundreds of organizations like NHMA to push for better school meals standards. By working together, we’re one step closer to securing a healthier next generation for all our nation’s communities.