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Category: Food and Nutrition

Back to School, Back to Healthier School Meals

Children eating school meals

Nutritious school meals keep students healthy and ready to learn.

It’s hard to believe the start of the school year is right around the corner. It feels like just yesterday the final bell rang, and students exchanged their pens and pencils for swim trunks and sunglasses. But it’s time for students, teachers and other school staff to get ready for the year ahead, and that includes school nutrition professionals who will soon be tasked with serving healthy school meals to over 30 million students nationwide.

This past year, America’s school nutrition professionals did some phenomenal work, and I look forward to picking up right where we left off. Today, more than 96 percent of schools are successfully meeting the updated meal standards, serving healthy meals approved by nutritionists and students alike. A recent study found that kids are now eating 16 percent more vegetables and 23 percent more fruit at school — not to mention more whole grains, low-fat dairy, and  lean protein, than they were before the new meal standards.  I’m certain that through continued collaboration with our partners and food professionals, this school year will bring even more progress toward a healthier, hunger-free generation. Read more »

Partners Make Access to Meals for Children Possible Year Round in Kentucky

KCEOC staff, Latisha Smith (left) and Daphne Karr, preparing up to 1,800 sack lunches each day

KCEOC staff, Latisha Smith (left) and Daphne Karr, prepare up to 1,800 sack lunches each day for children in the mountains of rural southeast Kentucky.

Kids in bright summer play clothes come running with smiles and laughter as the white cargo van rolls to a stop near a playground and the rear doors swing open. No, it’s not the ice cream truck. It is something better – the lunch ladies from Kentucky Communities Economic Opportunity Council (KCEOC) Community Action Center delivering bagged lunches filled with fruit, sandwiches, juice and milk.

Volunteers and staff at KCEOC work hard to feed as many Eastern Kentucky kids as possible during the summer in three USDA StrikeForce counties: Knox, Whitley and Laurel. Read more »

Farm to Preschool Helps Healthy Habits Take Root Early

USDA Undersecretary of Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon participating in a hands-on lesson about local foods at a YMCA preschool in West Seattle, WA

The term “farm to preschool” encompasses efforts to serve local or regionally produced foods in early child care and education settings; provide hands-on learning activities such as gardening, farm visits, and culinary activities; and integrate food-related education into the curriculum. Here, USDA Undersecretary of Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon participates in a hands-on lesson about local foods at a YMCA preschool in West Seattle, WA.

“May I have more kale chips, please?” asked a four-year old preschooler during one of my first site visits as farm to school lead for the Food and Nutrition Service’s Western Region. The preschoolers I was visiting grew and harvested the kale themselves a few feet beyond their classroom door and were enjoying the crisp treat as a snack. At the time, the USDA Farm to School Program was just beginning to expand their support to K-12 schools. Since then, I have worked with school districts in bringing the farm to their cafeterias and classrooms.

Our reasons for supporting farm to preschool are numerous. While the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 authorized the USDA Food and Nutrition Service to establish the Farm to School Program, the legislation also expanded the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) to not only aid child care institutions in serving nutritious foods, but to contribute to their wellness, healthy growth and development. Farm to preschool meets that requirement, and is recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a strategy to increase access to healthy environments. As evidenced by the eager kale chip request, farm to preschool efforts can set the stage for a lifetime of healthy eating. Read more »

Tackling Rural Child Poverty In Southwest Georgia

In late July, I was thrilled to visit with leaders from across southwest Georgia, including my hometown of Camilla, to discuss how USDA can support their work on the ground tackling issues relating to rural child poverty.

In Georgia, the poverty rate is 19 percent, and for children, it’s a staggering 27 percent. In Dougherty County, nearly one in three residents live in poverty.

This is why people like Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack, Secretary of Interior Jewell, and I are hitting the road—to hear first-hand what’s working in rural America and how we, the federal government, can help. Read more »

Listening and Learning From Local Food Stakeholders in New Mexico

AMS Local Food Research & Development Director Ken Keck (far right), AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo (middle), and Rio Arriba County Agricultural Extension Agent Donald Martinez, Jr., (middle in the back with red shirt), check out the 'Tequila' sweet pepper

AMS Local Food Research and Development Director Ken Keck (far right), AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo (middle), and Rio Arriba County Agricultural Extension Agent Donald Martinez, Jr., (middle in the back with red shirt), check out the 'Tequila' sweet pepper picked from the fields at Danny Farrar’s (far left) Rancho La Jolla in Velarde, NM. USDA photo courtesy of Peter Wood.

As part of National Farmers Market Week, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Administrator Anne L. Alonzo and I traveled to New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment. The bustling Santa Fe Farmers Market was the perfect place to kick off the week! While there, we also traveled to the beautiful countryside and met with key local food stakeholders during a special session and visits to local farms.  

The round table forum and farm visits allowed farmers, ranchers, and local food organizations to share their experiences. We heard from Danny Farrar, who owns Rancho La Jolla in Velarde and is also a member of the Farm to School Board of Directors. He told us that many of the northern New Mexico farmers who sell at farmers markets are growing fruits and vegetables on small family farms of just 3 to 5 acres and on land passed down through generations. He told us that keeping his land as a working farm is as important to his culture and heritage as it is to its profitability. Read more »

Farmers Markets and SNAP – A Win-Win for All

Jerry Lami (second from right), Executive Director of West Coast Farmers Market Association in California, at a Farmers Market/SNAP sign-up event

Jerry Lami (second from right), Executive Director of West Coast Farmers Market Association in California, at a Farmers Market/SNAP sign-up event in May 2015. Also pictured (left to right) are Brenda Mutuma, Andy Riesenberg, and Karone Jackson, all from USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service.

Farmers markets create the ultimate win-win-win scenario. They provide consumers access to locally grown fruits, vegetables, and other foods, while also giving farmers the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with their customers. Just ask executive director Jerry Lami who manages the West Coast Farmers Market Association.

Mr. Lami knows firsthand the positive developments that farmers markets can spark. “They create a fantastic relationship between communities and farmers,” he shares. “Neighbors meet neighbors. It’s a social gathering and an opportunity for customers to meet growers; then new relationships begins.” The end result, he adds, is that the farmer becomes a trusted food provider. Read more »