Sunday, January 30, 2011

This Week in School Food News

Kate Adamick is a friend and frequent source for what's really going on in the nation's school kitchen because her job is trying to find ways for those kitchens to become more efficient so they can serve food cooked fresh from whole ingredients.

Kate believes that the solution to our school food crisis is to teach, equip and empower the nation's lunch ladies--whom she prefers to call "lunch teachers." She thinks most of the money schools need to serve fresh, wholesome food is already contained in local budgets, and just needs to be freed from all the little plastic cups, desserts, a la carte lines and other unnecessary googahs that eat up precious funds.

In fact, Kate opposed the six cents Congress recently allotted as a raise for school lunch support on grounds that food corporations would simply raise prices.

Most of the time, Kate seems to be on the road, teaching "lunch teachers" somewhere how to do their jobs better, or teaching other chefs how to teach the "lunch teachers." If you want to know more about what she does and what she thinks, check out this interview she recently gave The Lunch Tray blog.


In some communities, those school meals are more important than ever because kids--and their families--are getting poorer.

In Illinois, for instance, new figures show that nearly half of the state's 2.1 million public school children came from families who were considered low-income during the last school year, as the recession nudged more families toward poverty. About 45.4 percent qualified for a free or discounted school meal, the highest rate in decades.

"It's a trend I am worried about," said state schools Superintendent Christopher Koch. "We are seeing additional stress on families ... and we know this impacts students."


The Environmental Working Group thinks we should be spending lots more on fresh vegetables in schools to avoid an even bigger health care tab. Noting that the six cents approved by Congress falls far short of funding the improved meal standards proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the group proposes that some of the difference come out of federal crop subsidies.

The USDA's meal standards would add $150 million a year to the school meal tab in California alone. "Just buying more fruits and vegetables would cost about $75 million," the EWG writes. "That’s equal to the subsidies that went to 200 California farming operations, mostly producing cotton, dairy and rice. Each collected an average of about $375,000 a year –- a jaw-dropping sum.

"Tough budget times call for serious fat-trimming," the EWG continues. "Why give scarce public funds to the state’s largest farm operators when a fraction of that subsidy money could improve our kids’ diets and help fruit and vegetable growers who provide jobs and $15 billion in annual economic value?

"California’s upland cotton growers raked in $139 million in subsidies in 2008, yet generated slightly more than $100 million in sales that same year. No investor in her right mind would take that deal. Why do taxpayers put up with this kind of lose-lose proposition?"


Food corporations are doing a great job restraining their advertising toward kids!

Yes, that was the headline at the Better Business Bureau recently, reporting "excellent compliance" among advertisers using a "better for you" labels. A review of TV advertising directed to kids on 38 hours of children’s programming in 2010 found:

* > 75 percent of the ads were for products that provided at least 10 percent of the Daily Value of one nutrient that is a shortfall in kids’ diets or a half-serving of a food group to encourage;

* 32 percent of the ads included at least a half-serving of vegetables or fruit such as apples or applesauce;

* 33 percent included milk or yogurt; and

* 27 percent were for products or meals that provided at least 8 grams of whole grains/50 percent whole grains.

And just what were these "better for you" products? Here's a sampling [PDF]:

Burger King chicken tenders kids meal. Pepperidge Farm "flavor blasted" Goldfish. Campbell's "Speghetti-Os." ConAgra's frozen "kid cuisine double stuffed pizza." Chef Boyardee "dinosaurs." General Mills' chocolate Lucky Charms. Kellogg's Apple Jacks cereal and Keebler chocolate chip "Gripz Grahams." Kraft Kool-Aid singles and Sponge Bob "chocolate blast" Honey Maid Grahams.

And let's not forget the Lunchables with breaded chicken nuggets and mozzarella.

Impressed yet?


On the subject of advertising, The World Health Organization says governments must work with industry to restrict advertising of foods high in salt, sugar and dangerous fats targeted at children to tackle an epidemic of obesity and other diseases.

According to the WHO, non-communicable diseases now account for 90 percent of premature deaths in low- and middle-income countries, where obesity is a rising problem. Of the 42 million children worldwide aged below 5 who are overweight or obese, 35 million are in those poor countries.

Recognition that advertising of junk foods and drink rich in salt, sugar and saturated and trans fats can encourage children to consume them, while advertising can also promote a healthy diet, led the WHO's assembly last may to call on the U.N. health agency to draw up the recommendations.

The World Health Organization's executive board, meeting recently, has been discussing how to tackle the marketing of harmful food to children as part of that effort.


Here's a shocker: overweight kids might have better chances of losing weight and keeping it off if their parents learned something about healthy eating.

That's the major finding of Australian researchers who looked at how targeting the behavior of parents affects the eating habits of their children.

Obese children whose parents took classes on the importance of healthy eating and exercise lost weight and kept it off for the next two years, according to a new Australian study. Researchers said the study shows that targeting parents -- rather than the children -- can help stave off weight gain in children aged 5 to 9.

"We believe it makes developmental sense to involve only parents," said lead study author Anthea Magarey, a senior research associate of nutrition and dietetics, at Flinders University School of Medicine in Adelaide, Australia, where the study took place. "It takes the stigma away from the child and supports a whole family approach."

The researchers enrolled mostly mothers of 169 moderately obese or overweight children aged 5 to 9 years in a six-month "healthy lifestyle" course, in which parents were taught about portion size and reading nutrition labels, being a good role model for their children and setting limits.


Finally, kids in Portland, Oregon, are protesting the use of Styrofoam trays in cafeterias there.

Four Portland students in third grade through seventh grade helped tote more than 1,000 used plastic foam lunch trays in front of the local school board recently to make the case that school lunch rooms need to be more environmentally friendly.

Among Portland's 85 schools, 28 have switched to using reusable sturdy plastic trays and real silverware and another 17 are in line to make that change in the coming months.

But, more than 20 years after Portland banned restaurants from using polystyrene containers to serve food, 40 other schools continue to serve breakfast and lunch on plastic foam plates and trays with disposable plastic silverware.

School officials say switching from Styrofoam to re-usable trays isn't so easy because some schools don't have adequate plumbing to wash the trays and in high schools, kids often eat outside and don't return the trays to the cafeteria.

It's a problem nationwide. Here in the District of Columbia, schools send thousands of Styrofoam trays to the landfill every day. At my daughter's school, they have a commercial dishwashing facility but still serve the food on Styrofoam.

A "Healthy Schools Act" passed last year by the D.C. Council calls on schools to faze out Styrofoam trays over a period of years.

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't agree more with Ms.Adamick - I, too, believe we can do much better with the money we have (although the $.06 has the distinct benefit of being an incentive to buy better foods that has already had a minor effect on our school lunches.)

    I can't believe that branded packaged foods are cheaper than scratch foods, even considering labor.