With back-to-school season just around the corner and more than 30 million kids planning to eat school-provided lunch every day, the school food environment has a powerful impact on students’ eating habits. Every school meal is an opportunity to help a child connect with the fuel that builds their mind and body. Here at Big Green, we pay close attention to the link between nutrition and learning as we work to advance real food access and knowledge in schools.
Children’s health and nutrition has historically been a unifying cause for folks on all sides of the political spectrum. Back in 1946, bipartisan support for the National School Lunch Act authorized the U.S. government to subsidize school lunches. These subsidies support free and reduced lunches in public schools across the country, and ensure that every student has access to a hot meal at school each day.
With government funding comes oversight and regulation and school meals are no exception. School lunch nutrition requirements have evolved over the years to reflect the United States Dept. Agriculture’s interpretation of a “healthy diet”. In an effort to align nutritional requirements with the most updated scientific evidence, Michelle Obama championed the Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010, which reduced the amount of sugar and sodium allowed in school lunches while increasing the required amount of whole grains.
With the passage of the Hunger-Free Kids Act, products like all-white bread and sweetened flavored milk were no longer qualified to be on the menu at schools accepting federal school lunch assistance. The standing supply chain for school meals pushed back continually on the change to nutritional requirements. Despite overwhelming opposition from the public, the USDA recently rolled back the school lunch nutritional requirements to allow for the higher sodium and sugar content in school lunch items. This prompted seven states to sue the Federal government, arguing that they violated the Administrative Procedure Act by not providing enough public notice or a reasoned explanation for the rule change.
As we await a ruling from the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York, schools are able to operate under the new rule changes and serve that sweet, sweet strawberry milk and high sodium products again. As we learned in history class though, everything is temporary and the enforcement of school food nutrition will continue to evolve and change over time. Regardless of the official rules for school lunch, Big Green is committed to improving the school food environment and helping kids make healthy choices in and out of the lunchroom, through a nationwide network of Learning Gardens. After all, every child deserves real food.