First-ever census reveals growing popularity of Farm to School program

Oct. 22, 2013, The Washington Post

By Tim Carman

More than 40 percent of the U.S. public school districts that responded to a historic census said they were participating in a program that helps bring fresh, local produce to school cafeterias. The percentage of participating schools was even higher in Maryland, Virginia, and the District, where the program has taken deep root.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) first-ever census of school districts across the country revealed how popular the national Farm to School program has become in recent years: About 43 percent of U.S. school districts — or about 38,600 schools — bought local produce for their students during the 2011-2012 school year, investing more than $354 million in farms near their communities. Another 13 percent said they would be participating in the program “in the near future.” Continue reading

USDA: Small number of schools drop out of federal lunch program due to healthier requirements

Sept. 29, 2013, Daily Reporter

By Mary Clare Jalonick

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says 524 schools — out of about 100,000 — have dropped out of the federally subsidized national school lunch program since the government introduced new standards for healthier foods last year.

The new standards have been met with grumbling from school nutrition officials who say they are difficult and expensive to follow, conservatives who say the government shouldn’t be dictating what kids eat and — unsurprisingly — from some children who say the less-greasy food doesn’t taste as good. But USDA says the vast majority of schools are serving healthier food, with some success.

Data the department is planning to release Sept. 30 shows that 80 percent of schools say they have already met the requirements, which went into place at the beginning of the 2012 school year. About a half dropped out of the program. Continue reading

School cafeterias, vending machines trading sugar, fat for more healthful fare

Sept. 27, 2013, The Washington Post

By Lenny Bernstein

Any parent who has fixed a nutritious school lunch only to find it untouched in a backpack the next morning will be heartened by new federal rules that will take effect in schools nationwide in the fall of 2014. That’s when laws will require school vending machines, stores and “a la carte” lunch menus to provide only healthful foods. So if a child hits the cafeteria line for pizza, the cheese on that slice will be relatively low in fat and sodium and the crust probably will be made from whole grains. And snackers will find nuts, granola bars, and water in vending machines instead of candy bars, potato chips, and sugary sodas. A 2001 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) showed that children in the school breakfast program, many of whom eat school-provided lunches, consume as much as half their calories each day at school. A 2009 study showed that sugar-sweetened beverages add 112 calories to the average elementary school student’s daily diet. Continue reading

USDA awards contract to Chobani Greek yogurt for school lunch test

July 26, 2013, The Post-Standard

By Mark Weiner

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded a contract to Chobani of Chenango County, N.Y., to supply four states with its Greek yogurt for a school lunch pilot program, according to members of New York’s congressional delegation.

Earlier this month, the USDA gave its permission for New York, Arizona, Idaho, and Tennessee to test Greek yogurt as a meat alternative in subsidized school lunches this school year. On July 29, Chobani was selected as the winning bidder to supply the yogurt. Continue reading

Webinar about new USDA school nutrition standards

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently finalized national school nutrition standards for vending, a la carte, school stores, and other foods sold outside the school meal programs. The National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity is hosting a webinar on Wednesday, July 24, 2013, from 2-3 p.m. EDT, to learn more about the new “Smart Snacks in School” interim final rule, discuss next steps towards implementation, and hear from a school district that is already providing healthy choices for students. Continue reading

USDA’s new nutrition standards mean healthier food options in school vending machines and snack bars

June 27, 2013, USDA Office of Communications

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on June 27 that under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) new “Smart Snacks in School” nutrition standards, America’s students will be offered healthier food options during the school day.

“Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children,” said Secretary Vilsack. “Parents and schools work hard to give our youngsters the opportunity to grow up healthy and strong, and providing healthy options throughout school cafeterias, vending machines, and snack bars will support their great efforts.”

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires USDA to establish nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools — beyond the federally-supported meals programs. The “Smart Snacks in School” nutrition standards…reflect USDA’s thoughtful consideration and response to the nearly 250,000 comments received on the proposal earlier this year. Continue reading

New, free USDA education materials show children how to make healthful food choices

June 25, 2013, USDA Blog

Research shows that students with healthful eating patterns tend to do better in school, and it’s important that children begin learning about food and nutrition when they’re young. In support of that goal, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) recently released three, free sets of curriculum educators can use to empower children to make healthful food choices and develop an awareness of how fruits and vegetables are grown.

The Great Garden Detective Adventure” curriculum forthird and fourth grades includes 11 lessons, bulletin board materials, veggie dice, fruit and vegetable flash cards, and 10 issues of Garden Detective News for parents/caregivers. Kids will discover what fruits and vegetables are sweetest, crunchiest, and juiciest through investigations and fun experiences connecting the school garden to the classroom, school cafeteria, and home. Continue reading

New report highlights effects of USDA’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program in schools

A March 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service’s Office of Research and Analysis explores new evaluation results of the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP).

FFVP aims to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among students in the most economically challenged U.S. elementary schools by providing fresh fruits and vegetable to students outside of regular school meals. Continue reading

Strict school lunch standards tied to healthy weight

April 8, 2013, Reuters

By Andrew M. Seaman

Strict school lunch standards that are similar to new regulations from the U.S. government may be tied to healthier body weights among students, according to a new study.

“I think it’s evidence that healthier school lunches have a positive effect but it’s preliminary evidence. It’s far from definitive,” said Anne Barnhill, who studies food policy at University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia but was not involved with the new research.

The new findings, published in JAMA Pediatrics on April 8, bode well for the standards introduced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in January 2012 that — among other moves — set maximums for calories offered during lunch and mandate that only skim or reduced-fat milk are offered to students. Continue reading

USDA announces new funding opportunity for childhood obesity prevention research

On Feb. 8, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it would be funding up to $5 million in new grants for childhood obesity prevention research.

The grants are funded through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), which funds competitive grants for fundamental and applied research, education, and extension to address food and agricultural sciences. These new awards fall under the AFRI Childhood Obesity Prevention Area: a program designed to achieve the long-term outcomes of reducing the prevalence of overweight and obesity among children and adolescents aged 2-19. Continue reading