Improving School Lunch Programs

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As an educator of health and wellness, I get really excited when I read about organizations and programs that are making a difference in our world by reducing food waste, educating people on nutrition, working to improve school lunches and finding other innovative ways to improve our food systems and our health.

So when I read about the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm to School program and Bay2Tray, I naturally wanted to learn more about what these programs are doing. I believe that learning about innovations in the health and wellness fields is important for everyone. Not only will it open our eyes to opportunities for our communities and families, but it may spark other ideas of ways to bring about positive change.

USDA’s Farm to School Program

This program helps child nutrition program operators incorporate local foods in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, Summer Food Service Program and Child and Adult Care Food Program. It is run by the Food and Nutrition Service’s Office of Community Food Systems (OCFS) and was formally established in 2010 with the passing of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Farm to School is defined by the USDA as “efforts to bring locally or regionally produced food into school cafeterias; hands-on learning activities such as school gardening, farm visits and culinary classes; and the integration of food-related education into the regular, standards-based classroom curriculum.”

In 2013-2014, school districts purchased nearly $800 million from local farmers, fishermen, ranchers, and food processors and manufacturers. At the national level, approximately 42% of school districts operated farm to school programs for the 2014-2015 school year and approximately 16% had plans to start in the future. There are also about 7,000 school gardens nationwide that grow produce for use in school cafeterias while also teaching students about where food comes from.

Eating locally sourced food is not only typically healthier, but it improves local economies, can save schools money and helps save the environment by decreasing the amount of fossil fuels used in transportation.

Bay2Tray

This program was created by Alan Lovewell of Real Good Fish, one of the first community-supported fisheries in Northern California. Bay2Tray has created a market for less-marketable bycatch fish in school lunch programs. Bycatch is a term used for fish caught in nets of fisherman who are aiming to catch other fish (i.e. the unwanted byproduct of normal commercial fishing). It constitutes approximately 40% of the world’s catch, a significant underutilized market that is normally just discarded.

Through Bay2Tray, this underutilized fresh fish is sold to school cafeterias. Schools who participate in the program now use fresh catch for fish tacos and salads instead of serving frozen fish sticks. This creates more revenue for the fishermen, provides schools with fresh, healthy food and supports sustainable regional food systems. It also teaches students of the importance of eating locally sourced food and that fish is an important part of a healthy diet. This is especially important in areas where unhealthy food is prevalent and financial constraints may make it hard for families to afford fresh seafood.

Bay2Tray currently works with the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District and is expanding to other schools in California. About 138 schools and early education programs in the Bay Area participate in this program.

These two programs are making a difference in a big way. Their creation has brought local food economies to the forefront in areas where it wasn’t really considered previously, namely schools. What children eat at school every day is so incredibly important and it has a direct impact on how they perform in the classroom. Students crashing from a sugar high from their lunch or hungry all morning because they didn’t eat breakfast will not be able to concentrate on what they are learning.

It makes me happy when I read about organizations and programs that are making the world a healthier and better place. This day and age we often only hear about obesity rates and how the overall health of our country is declining, not enough of the good stories. The companies and programs who are fighting to beat this trend. I will keep my eye out and let you know of other ones that peak my interest.

Related Post: 5 Issues with American Food Culture and What We Can Do About It

Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Liz West on flickr

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4 thoughts on “Improving School Lunch Programs

  1. I strongly agree that these programs are necessary for educating our future generations AND they are yet another way to integrate and diversify learning within our schools and the community.
    Way to go, Anna! Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

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