TREND Winter 2017/2018 - Page 44

SMARTER SCHOOL LUN States and School Districts Need More Flex The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) are theoretically designed to provide nutritious and well-balanced meals to school children across the nation. The programs allow participating public and nonprofit private schools to serve free meals to children who are near, at, or below the poverty line, and reduced meals to children who are just above it. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service administers 15 nutrition assistance programs that include the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and the Summer Food Service Program. Together, these programs comprise America’s nutrition safety net. Unfortunately, in our schools many of these meals are unappealing to the children expected to eat them. Therefore, they are not consumed and defeat the very purpose for which they are designed. There’s an old saying that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. In this case, well-meaning public health reformers who have worked hard to improve the nutritional value of public school lunches cannot force the children to eat them. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue stated: “If kids aren’t eating the food, and it’s ending up in the trash, they aren’t getting any nutrition – thus undermining the intent of the program.” A study done by the University of Vermont found that while children placed more fruits and vegetables on their trays - as required by the USDA mandates put in place in 2012 - they consumed fewer of them. The amount of food wasted increased by 56 percent, the researchers found. The Trump administration and the United States Department of Agriculture are now extending “flexibilities” to the Child Nutrition Program to address this issue. This process will restore local control of guidelines on whole grains, sodium, and milk. Hopefully, this process will result in making child nutrition programs more efficient for states and school districts to implement, and more appealing and palatable for children. It is imperative to give schools more flexibility and greater control in meeting federal nutrition standards for school meals. While it is important to promote healthful eating, districts are better positioned and more proficient in menu planning in order to serve nutritious and appealing meals than the federal government. By giving states and districts increased flexibility it does not mean well-balanced meals are not going to be provided. That would be counter-intuitive as there is a link that healthier eating does improve academic performance in children. The research (The Effect of Providing Breakfast in Class on Student Performance) demonstrates that the connection between school meals and student test scores has focused on improving access rather than the meals’ nutritional value. However, in the last decade, schools have been facing increasing fiscal burdens as they attempt to adhere to existing, stringent nutrition requirements. According to USDA figures, school food requirements cost school districts and states an additional $1.22 billion