Headlines in late August shouted that students were so unhappy with new school lunches during the last year that some school districts are quitting the federal school lunch program.
However, negative press highlighting those few schools doesn’t tell the story of the many school districts who have successfully implemented updated nutrition standards, nutrition advocates and U.S. Department of Agriculture officials said Aug. 28.
Headlined “Some School Districts Quit Healthier Lunch Program,” an Aug. 27 Associated Press story said claimed so many students shunned the more nutritious lunches that the school cafeterias were losing money, leading some districts to drop the program.
Updated nutrition standards were implemented in fall 2012, mandating schools serve more fruits and vegetables in school meals. The story, citing dropout school districts in Illinois and New York, was featured on The Drudge Report, The Washington Post online and other news media.
“The truth is that the vast majority of schools across the country are meeting the updated meal standards successfully, which is so important to help all our nation’s children lead healthier lives,” Janey Thornton, U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services said in a Aug. 28 blog post.
Thornton, providing links to success stories from across the U.S., said schools that adopted the changes earlier report participation increased as students and parents became accustomed to the healthier options.
Schools that have implemented the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program or have put in salad bars in their cafeterias typically have had a much easier transition into new meal standards, according to Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C.
DiSogra said an Arkansas school official said to her that elementary schools in that state that have had the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program had an easy time in implementing new school lunch nutrition regulations.
“Those schools that were already focused in one way or another about getting kids to try more fruits and vegetables, and were beginning to make those changes — those schools had no problems,” she said.
Kids exposed to fruits and vegetables for several years through the snack program were very receptive to more fruits and vegetables served in school lunches, she said.
“Those schools that were making incremental changes over the last couple of years are in good shape and the transition to healthier school meals has gone really smoothly,” she said. For those schools, the new nutrition regulations are working wonderfully, DiSogra said.
Speaking to the issue, an Oct. 1 workshop at the United Fresh Produce Association’s Washington Public Policy Conference in Washington, D.C, will focus on schools and their produce suppliers that have been successful in incorporating more fruits and vegetables in the school environment, DiSogra said.
Confirmed speakers at the session include: Marla Caplon, director of child nutrition, Montgomery County School District, Rockville, Md.; Jessica Shelly, food services director, Cincinnati Public Schools, Cincinnati, Ohio; Sean Leer, vice president of sales for Gold Star Foods, Ontario, Calif.; Phil Muir, president and chief executive officer, Copper Canyon Farms, Salt Lake City, Utah; Dennis Christou, vice president of marketing, Del Monte Fresh Produce, Coral Gables, Fla.