Baked parmesan fish, butternut squash with black beans, honey lemon chicken… No, these aren’t items on a high-end restaurant menu. They’re delicious dishes being offered in America’s school lunchrooms! This National School Lunch Week, we’re celebrating school meal programs around the country and renewed efforts to provide nutritious and appetizing meals featuring more fruits and vegetables and whole grains with less calories, sodium, and trans fats. As a result of school nutrition professionals’ hard work, our kids’ meals are healthier than ever before. And USDA research confirms that children who participate in the National School Lunch Program are more likely to consume fruits, vegetables, milk, and other important components of a healthy diet than their peers. Read more »
Food service staff at a Delaware high school serves up a local lunch, including kale from the school farm.
Along with brilliantly colored hard squash, crisp apples, and hearty greens, October ushers in National Farm to School Month, a time to raise awareness about and celebrate the impact of farm to school programs on children, producers, and communities. Since 2012, I have directed USDA’s Farm to School Program, guiding the work of a small but enthusiastic team at the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Each October, we have more to celebrate: more USDA funds awarded to schools, agencies, and organizations to advance these programs; more money ending up in the pockets of local producers; more school gardens in which students can learn and grow; and more healthful school meals that feature local foods.
A new report, announced by Agriculture Secretary Vilsack earlier this month, helps quantify our celebration. An analysis of grant-making over the last three years reveals that USDA has awarded $15.1 million through 221 grants in 49 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Fifty percent of funded projects included expanding healthy menu options offered in the cafeteria; 46 percent included training for food service staff about menu planning, meal preparation, and cooking with local and regional foods; and 65 percent included nutrition education activities. These funds have helped 12,300 schools improve nutritious meal options made with local ingredients for 6.9 million students, while expanding market opportunities for family farmers and ranchers in their communities. Read more »
Students, school staff, teachers, and the entire community celebrate National School Lunch Week.
The fall season has arrived and with it the National School Lunch Week celebration! During the second week of October, USDA recognizes the important role school meal programs play in providing healthy, appetizing foods to their students. Over the last several weeks, USDA leaders visited schools to experience their meal programs first hand. And they were quite impressed! Now more than ever, today’s schools encourage healthy choices by featuring creative dishes and a variety of fruits and vegetables. USDA also got the chance to tour school gardens that harvest fresh ingredients and allow students to learn where their food comes from. It was exciting to see the many ways schools get students excited about health and nutrition and the important strides made to secure a healthier next generation.
After only three years since the updated nutrition standards were implemented, more than 96 percent of schools nationwide are meeting the standards. The impact is nothing short of inspiring. School lunch revenue has increased by up to $450 million; teachers report that students are more attentive in the classroom; and a Harvard study found students are now eating more fruits and vegetables! Read more »
Through What's Growing On? taste tests students get to vote on the local produce option.
Rural communities are looking for innovative ways to sustain quality of life and build viable food systems that support the health and economic needs of their people. Working Landscapes is a Warrenton, N.C. nonprofit that creates sustainable food hubs by bridging the gap between local farmers and area consumers. As a 2015 USDA Farm to School grantee, Working Landscapes uses its food hub resources to link local farmers and northeastern North Carolina school districts, demonstrating that working together can make a difference in the quality of life for rural communities.
By Tim Williams, Program Manager, Working Landscapes
The lights are on and the machines whirring on a recent June morning in downtown Warrenton, N.C. From the outside, the former cotton gin warehouse doesn’t look like much, but what you find behind the historic facade is an innovative farm to school venture that is bringing locally grown, fresh-cut vegetables to students across the northeastern part of the state. Read more »
An elementary school student in West New York, New Jersey, enjoys a farm fresh bite of yellow tomato, delivered to the school that morning.
Happy National Farm to School Month! Every October, the USDA Farm to School team is overwhelmed with stories of how farm to school programs are affecting kids, producers, and communities. Having now made 221 grants to school districts and other entities across the country to pursue projects that bring more local foods into schools and teach kids about where their foods comes from, we experience a steady stream of encouraging stories throughout the year. Stories about local farmers proudly supplying grains for a district’s whole grain baked goods; stories about school food service staff dressing up like fruits and vegetables to encourage healthy eating; stories about kids growing beets in the school garden and then devouring them when they show up in the cafeteria. During Farm to School Month, these anecdotes proliferate–on social media, on blogs, and via news stories. They inspire us, amuse us, and sometimes even make us tear up, but they don’t unequivocally prove that these programs work. For that, we rely on studies and surveys, on journal articles and evaluation results. Read more »
After they’ve finished playing at recess, students sit and eat their lunch with School Chef Jason Moore in Gallatin Gateway, MT.
The following guest blog showcases Montana Team Nutrition and their excellent work implementing their Recess Before Lunch (RBL) program. Through this initiative Montana students enjoy active play right before indulging a nutritious school lunch meal allowing them to return to class ready for academic success.
By: Katie Bark, RD, LN, SNS (Project Director Montana Team Nutrition, Montana State University), Christine Emerson, MS, RD, LN (State Director, School Nutrition Programs, Office of Public Instruction), and Molly Stenberg, RD, LN (Assistant Project Director, Montana Team Nutrition, Montana State University)
As USDA’s Team Nutrition celebrates its 20th anniversary, so does Montana Team Nutrition (MTTN)! Since 1995, MTTN has used funding from USDA to provide nutrition education and technical assistance to school districts across our state. Moreover, we’ve been innovators in our field, and one of our biggest accomplishments has been instituting a recess before lunch (RBL) culture in many of our schools. Read more »