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Category: Food and Nutrition

Bringing the Promise of Healthy School Meals to More Children This Fall

Cross-posted from the Huffington Post:

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 enabled the U.S Department of Agriculture to make historic changes to the meals served in our nation’s schools. Breakfasts, lunches, and snacks sold during the school day are now more nutritious than ever, with less fat and sodium and more whole-grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and low-fat dairy. For many kids, the meals they get at school may be the only nutritious meals they receive that day — and when children receive proper nourishment, they are not only healthier, but they also have better school attendance and perform better academically. It’s not enough, though, to make the meals healthier — we must ensure that children have access to those healthier foods.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act authorized a program, known as the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), that can help schools achieve their educational goals by ensuring that children in low-income communities have access to healthy meals at school so they are ready to learn. In this program, schools agree to offer breakfast and lunch for free to all students, and cover any costs that exceed the reimbursements from USDA. Designed to ease the burden of administering a high volume of applications for free and reduced price meals, CEP is a powerful tool to both increase child nutrition and reduce paperwork at the district, school, and household levels, which saves staff time and resources for cash-strapped school districts. Read more »

On the Road to the School Nutrition Association Conference

Next week, I, along with dozens of staff from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will have the pleasure of joining thousands of school nutrition professionals, members of the public health community, and food industry representatives in Boston at the 68th Annual National Conference of the School Nutrition Association (SNA).  This annual event provides an opportunity for stakeholders in the school nutrition community to network, gain ideas, and learn from one another.

As a past president of SNA myself, I look forward to this meeting each year.  Being surrounded by dedicated nutrition professionals who all want to make sure we are providing the best possible support to our nation’s children, and hearing about all the creative approaches schools are using to successfully serve healthy school meals is quite a treat.  I am excited to be able to meet with members of the community one-on-one, and hear firsthand about their successes, as well as their challenges.  I also look forward to speaking to the larger audience during the second general session on Tuesday.  My USDA colleagues will be on-hand throughout the conference to gather more feedback and provide additional information, technical assistance and other support to school nutrition professionals. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: USDA, Partners Help Fill the Summer Meal Gap

This summer, USDA is highlighting partnerships to invest in the future of rural America. Our partners work with us year after year to leverage resources and grow economic opportunities. They are the key to ensuring our rural communities thrive. Follow more of our stories on Twitter at @USDA or using the hashtag #RuralPartners.

In the battle for our children’s future, one of the most powerful things we can do to protect them is to ensure they get the nutrition they need to learn and grow.

Nationwide, 16 million children live in households that have trouble putting food on the table at least a portion of the year. During the school year, USDA’s school nutrition programs help make sure millions of American children get a healthy breakfast and lunch at school.

When school lets out, USDA’s summer meals help make sure that those kids get the nutrition they need, even when school is not in session. Last year, USDA and its partners served a record 168 million summer meals to kids across the country. Read more »

On the Front Lines for Our Children

Cross-posted from the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network blog:

When you think about organizations engaged in the War on Cancer, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) may not be the first that comes to mind. Yet, we are on the front lines of the battle to reduce obesity, a known risk factor for many types of cancer, each and every day.

The impact of obesity on future health outlooks is shocking. The American Society of Clinical Oncology estimates that one in three cancer deaths in 2012 were related to obesity, poor nutrition or physical inactivity. In the next ten years, obesity is predicted to overtake tobacco as the number one preventable cause of cancer. That estimate is supported by the National Institutes of Health’s prediction that by 2030, we could see an additional 400,000 cases of cancer in the United States as a result of continuing obesity trends. Read more »

Delivering Along the Food Value Chain

Food can go through a lot of steps to reach the consumer - before it is laid on the table - food travels from the field to the truck to the packing house to the store. AMS has many programs that support business entities involved in the food chain. Photo courtesy of Bart Everson.

Food can go through a lot of steps to reach the consumer - before it is laid on the table - food travels from the field to the truck to the packing house to the store. AMS has many programs that support business entities involved in the food chain. Photo courtesy of Bart Everson.

A recent trip back home to Louisiana sparked memories of a simpler time when old trucks full of fresh produce rumbled down dusty roads to deliver goods to the local market. The 2012 Census of Agriculture tells us that 50,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide are now selling to local retailers and that 150,000 of them are selling their products directly to consumers. Although these farmers and ranchers are still using this direct approach, the agricultural industry is certainly more dynamic today.  This means that producers need to follow a strategic business model.

The reality is that food can go through a lot of steps to reach the consumer. Before it is served on the table, food travels from the field to the truck to the packing house to the store. My agency, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), has many programs that support business entities involved in the food chain, including farmers markets and food hubs. For example, we invest in projects that help farmers and businesses understand emerging trends, create new markets, and stimulate our nation’s rural economies. Read more »

Give Students What They Are Asking For: Healthier Foods, Healthier Lives

Today’s guest post comes from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, an organization that aptly describes itself as “a catalyst for children’s health.” While the Alliance has been active in many settings, we at USDA particularly appreciate the dedication they have shown to improving school nutrition.  In this post, Dr. Howell Wechsler, CEO, describes some of the successes that his team has witnessed in school cafeterias.

Howell Wechsler, EdD, MPH, Chief Executive Officer, Alliance for a Healthier Generation

Our nation’s students, some of whom consume up to half of their daily calories at school [see also this publication from the US National Library of MedicineNational Institutes of Health], want and deserve healthy choices throughout the school building—in the cafeteria line, vending machines, and school stores.

Just ask eight-year-old Farrah from the William J. Christian School in Birmingham, Alabama: It’s important to have healthy foods as part of school lunch so that kids can have the opportunity to try many fruits and vegetables and see that these foods are delicious,” she told the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. “At the same time we can learn that these foods are good for you…Eating healthy can be fun.Read more »