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Organic Consumers Association

School Lunches: Where’s the Broccoli?

  • School Lunches: Where’s the Broccoli?
    By Kari Hamerschlag
    Environmental Working Group, March 11, 2010
    Straight to the Source

First Lady Michelle Obama's noble fight against childhood obesity cannot be won unless members of Congress act boldly this spring and vote to give school lunches the healthy makeover that our kids deserve and desperately need.

Reauthorized every 4-5 years, the Child Nutrition Act supports a range of child nutrition programs, including school lunches and breakfasts, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (better known as WIC), summer meals programs and afterschool snacks and meals.

Unfortunately, the reality in too many schools is that the menu too often consists of such things as tater tots, French fries, hot dogs, pizza, and chicken nuggets - foods that do not inspire visions of health and wellness. And they certainly do not help the First Lady meet her goals for combating child obesity.

But they are cheap.

And cheap is the name of the game, given that schools typically spend just one dollar per meal on their food purchases (not including labor and overhead costs).

Not only are these unhealthy foods inexpensive, they are provided in abundance as "entitlements" by USDA's Commodity Food Program, which purchases and distributes millions of dollars worth of pork, beef and other high-fat, high-cholesterol, and highly processed meat and dairy products to school lunch and other nutrition programs.

In 2008, the USDA spent 43% of its Child Nutrition food procurement "entitlement" budget on meat and poultry products, while just 23% went to fruits and vegetables. And of these, most are canned and frozen: Only 22% were fresh-In other words, just 5% of the total commodity entitlement budget went to fresh fruits and vegetables.

If this country is going to improve kids' health and turn the obesity epidemic around, it must start by serving more healthful meals in schools, where more than 30 million kids develop eating habits that will last a lifetime. That means scaling back high-fat, high- cholesterol foods linked to type 2 diabetes, obesity and heart disease and increasing consumption of higher fiber and nutrient-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.

How do we get more fruits and vegetables into school cafeterias?


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