Horrified by the hot lunch at your kid’s school?…I am.  I try every so often to have hot lunch at my kids’ school with them.  They usually take a cold lunch so we can prepare a healthier meal, but this Friday I went for hot lunch with my younger daughter.  First the positive: the school did have fresh salad available for the kids, but this was special situation as the kids grew the veggies themselves in the high school’s greenhouse.  The rest of the regular lunch was an utter embarrassment and I’m not sure how kids can be expected to learn when they allowed to ingest so much sugar.  The average kid chose a slice of cheese or pepperoni pizza, chocolate milk, ice cream, a piece of fruit and a box of raisins.  The chocolate milk, ice cream and raisins alone are over 70 grams of sugar.  It doesn’t need to be this way either from a comparative standpoint (schools meals are much healthier in Sweden and China where we’ve lived before) and a legal/policy standpoint.  We should be on our district School Food Administrators (SFAs) to make our kids’ meals healthier.  Some things to keep in mind:

-The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act amends the National School Lunch Act to foster the growth of the burgeoning organic food and “farm to school” movements. Under the Organic Food Pilot Program, grants are provided on a competitive basis to SFAs to establish programs to increase the quantity of organic foods provided to schoolchildren under the National School Lunch Program.

-Congress amended the NSLA to encourage participating institutions to purchase “unprocessed agricultural products, both locally grown and locally raised, to the maximum extent practicable and appropriate.”  This provision allows SFAs to give preference to locally grown foods in their contracts with producers and suppliers.  SFAs can prescribe the geographic preference in the form of preference points or as a percentage in their solicitation for bids.

-While the amendment to NSLA’s geographic preference provision certainly gives SFAs freedom to purchase local unprocessed products, SFAs face another barrier in attempting to integrate those fresh ingredients into school lunch menus. Decades of prepackaged and prepared menu items have rendered full facility kitchens obsolete, and today it is hard to find a school that has more than bulk freezers and massive ovens.

Factory food and prepackaged meals have become dominant in school meals, but several players—SFAs, parents, teachers, and health and legal professionals—can work together to reverse this trend.  Learn more in Chapter 13 of my new book, Food, Agriculture and Environmental Law.

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