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 »
The following guest blog highlights the important work of our partner the American Public Health Association (APHA). The association is a tireless advocate working to create the healthiest nation. APHA strives to reach that goal through science-based research, and education.
By Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, Executive Director, American Public Health Association
As kids across the country begin a new school year, they’ll be hitting the books to learn important skills to be successful later in life. They’ll also be visiting cafeterias, vending machines and school stores for the foods and beverages they need to fuel their growing bodies and for achieving academic success. With nearly one in three children overweight or obese, it’s critical that healthy meals are available to them throughout the school environment. Read more »
Nutrition Services teams up with high school culinary classes to create recipes and menu concepts.
Locally-sourced fish baked in fresh herbs and oil topped with a fresh cilantro slaw…It sounds like a dish from a five star restaurant, but it’s just one of many recipes registered dietitian and director of nutrition services Jenn Gerard offers students for lunch in her California school district. Learn how Monterey Peninsula Schools embraced the new nutrition standards, using them as a springboard to enhance their impressive school meals programs.
By Jenn Gerard, R.D., Director of Nutrition Services, Monterey Peninsula Unified School District
I began my career in child nutrition at 26 years old in the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District (MPUSD). Six months later I was stepping into the director position during one of the biggest changes in school meal regulations, attributed to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010. Read more »
Many schools in high-poverty areas find that participating in CEP is cost-effective.
When the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act authorized the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), schools in high-poverty areas gained another important tool to fight childhood hunger. By the end of school year 2014-15, the first year CEP was available nationwide, more than half of all eligible schools had already jumped on board.
Low-income schools of all kinds – rural, urban, elementary and secondary – recognized the potential impact they could have on their communities by offering meals at no cost to all students. Yet, some schools encountered more bumps on the road to implementation than others. Read more »
A students’ favorite: stir-fried ginger chicken with locally grown kale.
The things that make our country so great and special can be found in the diversity of the people, their ideas, and their culture. One of the ways culture is expressed is through the foods we eat. Our nation’s school meals should be no exception. More than 30 million children receive at least one nutritious meal every school day through the USDA’s National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs.
My commitment is to make sure these children have access to healthy, nutritious meals while they learn. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) has helped raise the nutritional value of the foods our children eat with meal standards that promote health during the years most critical for growing kids. The meal standards have been developed to not only offer healthy meal options, but to allow schools the flexibility to prepare meals that are familiar to kids from culturally diverse backgrounds. Read more »
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 »