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Category: Food and Nutrition

Making Strides with School Meals

The following guest blog is part of our Cafeteria Stories series, highlighting the efforts of hard working school nutrition professionals who are dedicated to making the healthy choice the easy choice at schools across the country.  We thank them for sharing their stories! Read more »

Back-to-School and On a Mission to Spread Health

Sharon Foster of James Bowie Elementary School in Dallas is an Alliance National School Ambassador. Photo credit: Ellen Yale

Sharon Foster of James Bowie Elementary School in Dallas is an Alliance National School Ambassador. Photo credit: Ellen Yale

Today’s guest post in our Cafeteria Stories series comes from Sharon Foster, a physical education teacher dedicated to paving a path of success for her students.  Ms. Foster describes the importance of a healthy school nutrition environment, as well as involving students in the change process (something I wholeheartedly support!).  Due to her motivation and successes, Ms. Foster now serves as an ambassador for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

By Sharon Foster, Physical Education Teacher at James Bowie Elementary School

As students at James Bowie Elementary School head back to school this fall, I feel good about the fact we are providing healthy meals, drinks, and snacks at school because I know we’re helping our students build strong minds and bodies.

It wasn’t always that way at our school. Before we started our journey by joining the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program, our students were snacking on salty foods and sugary drinks outside the cafeteria and were not ready to learn when they came to class. Read more »

Poll Finds Most Parents Support Higher School Nutrition Standards

A new poll shows that parents of school-age children overwhelmingly support national nutrition standards for all foods and beverages sold to students during the school day. For more information, visit: www.pewtrusts.org/SchoolFoodParentPoll. Click to enlarge.

A new poll shows that parents of school-age children overwhelmingly support national nutrition standards for all foods and beverages sold to students during the school day. For more information, visit: www.pewtrusts.org/SchoolFoodParentPoll. Click to enlarge.

Over the past four years, USDA has worked closely with schools, parents, community leaders, and nutrition experts to ensure that when children go off to school, they are greeted by a healthier school environment.  According to the CDC, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years, leading to an increase in obesity-related health outcomes in children, including cardiovascular disease, pre-diabetes, and bone and joint problems.  Improving school nutrition is vital to reducing childhood obesity, because many children consume half of their daily calories during the school day. Making the healthy choice the easy choice sets our nation’s children up for a lifetime of healthy choices, and supports a healthier next generation.  Recently, we’ve seen evidence that student acceptance of healthier meals is increasing across all grade levels.  Today, we are pleased to see the results of the latest poll by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the American Heart Association, showing that most parents support the healthier meal and snack standards implemented through the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010.

Read more about the results of that study in this guest blog, from the American Heart Association.

A majority of parents favor strong national nutrition standards for food and drink sold at schools, according to a poll released Monday by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Heart Association.

In addition, the poll found that parents would also like to see salt limited in school foods and more fruits and vegetables served. Read more »

Organic Cost Share Assistance Expands Opportunities for Farmers

Organic certification cost share programs puts organic certification within reach for farms of all sizes. It is of great value to organic farmers and supports the integrity of the organic label.

Organic certification cost share programs puts organic certification within reach for farms of all sizes. It is of great value to organic farmers and supports the integrity of the organic label.

The cost of organic certification is becoming more affordable for many certified producers and handlers.  Thanks to support from the 2014 Farm Bill, cost share and assistance programs are available to organic producers and handlers through fiscal year 2018.

Cost share programs benefit certified producers and handlers across the organic supply chain, providing critical support to the organic community and rural America.  USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) administers these funds—which total almost $13 million this year—through grants to participating states. In 2012 alone, USDA issued nearly 10,000 reimbursements that totaled over $6.5 million. Read more »

Reap What You Sow: Choctaw Children Learn about Gardening and Cooking

Nutrition Educator Liz Easterling of the Mississippi State Extension Service leads a cooking demonstration of "farmers market salsa."

Nutrition Educator Liz Easterling of the Mississippi State Extension Service leads a cooking demonstration of "farmers market salsa."

“How many of you like vegetables?”  The question posed to a gathering of Choctaw children in a garden in rural Mississippi elicits skeptical responses.  But upon sampling the fresh produce harvested with their own hands, however, the children’s stereotypes of disgust turn to surprises of delight.  A young boy taking a giant bite out of a juicy tomato could be the poster child for the vibrant red fruit.  A pair of sisters declares cucumbers as their favorite.  The newly adventurous children are even willing to taste raw eggplant…Now that’s impressive.

Through a summer program made possible by a Food Distribution Program Nutrition Education (FDPNE) Grant from the Food and Nutrition Service, 150 children from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians were able to get up close and personal with fresh fruits and vegetables.  Twice a week, children ages 6-18 from the Boys and Girls Club and the Tribal Youth Court participated in the lifecycle of planting, picking, and preparing produce.  The week my colleagues and I visited the Choctaw Indian Reservation, the children scattered seed for iron clay peas, witnessed the hustle and bustle of a farmers market, and learned how to dice vegetables for a salsa recipe. Read more »

Produce Pilot Ready to Take Root in Schools

Last fiscal year, AMS purchased more than 272 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables. The new produce pilot program will increase these figures, expanding the opportunity for qualified vendors to supply fresh, quality fruits and vegetables to schools. USDA Photo Courtesy of Bob Nichols.

Last fiscal year, AMS purchased more than 272 million pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables. The new produce pilot program will increase these figures, expanding the opportunity for qualified vendors to supply fresh, quality fruits and vegetables to schools. USDA Photo Courtesy of Bob Nichols.

Whether it’s trying on a new pair of shoes or eating a new item from your favorite restaurant, there’s always a feeling of excitement when you try something new. Here at USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), we get that same feeling when we are able to create new opportunities for our nation’s producers. That’s why we’re excited to announce that AMS and our sister agency—the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS)—have launched a new pilot program for the procurement of unprocessed fruits and vegetables.

The new pilot program—established by the 2014 Farm Bill—is part of USDA’s continued commitment to create and expand opportunities for our nation’s fruit and vegetable producers.  The pilot will open doors for American producers, giving them an additional opportunity to supply quality, fresh fruits and vegetables to schools in up to eight states. Read more »