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 »
As schools across the country were winding down for the summer, the conversation around school meals standards was heating up. School districts, parents, community members and Congressional representatives have engaged in an important discussion about the role of the new standards in our nation’s National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs. Created to boost the health of our next generation, the standards encourage schools to get more creative and health-conscious about the food they serve to their students. Last month, USDA joined the National Hispanic Medical Association to reinforce this critical message.
During a Congressional briefing held by the National Hispanic Medical Association, dozens convened to learn how the Latino community was leveraging the new standards to support healthier lifestyles for their children. While the association focused on educational and healthcare institutions heightening awareness around nutrition programs, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service Western Regional Administrator, Jesus Mendoza, underscored the importance of healthy eating, emphasizing his experiences with the new standards in his region. “Since the passing of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act,” Mendoza explained, “kids are eating a lot more fruits and vegetables, 90 percent of schools report that they are able to abide by the standards, more water is being offered to our children in cafeterias, and we’re exposing kids to foods they’ve never seen or heard of before.” Read more »
The trade dispute was resolved after AMS helped the businesses produce paper work and take the South Korean officials on tours of orange juice processing plants. USDA Photo courtesy of Ken Hammond.
When we shop for items like orange juice at the grocery store, we often take for granted what goes on behind the scenes before we can enjoy these quality foods. Our nation’s producers and processors do not take it for granted. These products represent their livelihood, and the ability to reach new customers—especially through the export market—is critical to their businesses’ success. Recently, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) helped four businesses from Florida avert a costly 54% tariff, enabling them to continue to export frozen concentrated orange juice duty free to South Korea.
The US – Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS FTA) exempts U.S. orange juice from a 54% tariff when exported to Korea. However, in March 2013 Korean officials questioned the domestic origin of orange juice exported from the Sunshine State to the East Asian country. Without proof that the juice came from the U.S., exporters faced the costly tariff and the volume of exports to South Korea decreased. It was a huge loss for the Florida citrus industry which creates 76,000 jobs and pumps $9 billion into its local economy. Read more »
Bill Smittcamp (center), pictured here with his son, Blake, and grandson is president of Wawona Frozen Foods. “USDA has always been very supportive and open to working with small business and the fruit and vegetable industry as a whole,” said Smittcamp, “They listen to our concerns and work with us. The ability to have a conversation with an organization like USDA gives us confidence in our ability to grow our business.”
USDA’s purchase programs were created to support our nation’s farmers through the purchase of domestic products and to increase Americans’ access to nutritious food. Many businesses who sell to USDA find that the programs also create other opportunities for growth.
Companies like Wawona Frozen Foods have used the Commodity Purchase Program, administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), as a reliable outlet for their products. The consistent opportunities offered through government contracting allowed them to eventually expand into commercial foodservice and retail markets. For nearly 20 years, Wawona competitively bid for contracts and provided quality, nutritious foods to USDA programs. As a dependable USDA vendor, they supply more than 50 million frozen fruit cups to the National School Lunch Program each year. Read more »
Thanks to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, students across America are being served meals with more fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy. Parents can send their kids to school knowing that the healthy habits they teach at home are being reinforced at school, with breakfast and lunch menus that provide more of the foods we should eat, and less of the foods that we should avoid.
Parents, teachers, school nutrition professionals, communities, and policy makers are working hard to make sure that school environments support a healthier next generation. Read more »
Hummus and Pita Bread, Sunflower butter string cheese and fruit, Turkey and cheese sandwiches prepared for the National School Lunch Program at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia.
As many schools wind down for the year, USDA is gearing up for exciting new improvements designed to make the 2014-2015 school year even healthier for our nation’s future leaders. It’s a commitment rooted in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. In that legislation, USDA is directed to update the school meals to reflect the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
The new school meal requirements are intended to ensure children get the nutrition they need for academic performance and overall health. That’s a mission USDA takes seriously. Feeding kids, and feeding them well, can be a challenge. I understand that as a former school nutrition director, mother, and now grandmother. Plus, we know that change, in general, can be difficult. That is why we are working closely with schools to make sure the transition to the updated standards runs as smoothly as possible. We are listening to what school nutritional professionals, teachers, parents and students are telling us. These partners are the heart and soul of the school community and we have provided flexibilities based on their important feedback. Read more »