TODAY'S QUESTION: What changes should be made to the National School Lunch Program?

Thursday, January 7, 2010 | 8:30 a.m. CST

Congress has pledged to review the Child Nutrition Act this spring, and based on recent findings concerning the National School Lunch Program, changes can’t come soon enough.

As of last month, 62 percent of public school students who participate in the program – which provides low-cost or free lunch meals to qualified students – cannot afford the average $2.92-a-day cost for a hot lunch, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Nutrition Service.

To qualify for the program, which falls under the Child Nutrition Act, a four-person family must earn $28,665 or less for a free lunch and $40,793 or less for a low-cost lunch.

While 31.2 million students are enrolled in the program, many students who qualify aren't being reached. U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, D-N.C., noted that federal nutrition assistance such as food stamps increased 22 percent nationally in the past year, while applications for free and reduced lunches increased just 3 percent.

This news follows reports about the quality of meat being served through the program. In December, USA Today reported that schools have received millions of pounds of beef and chicken from the government in the past three years that wouldn't meet quality or safety standards of many fast-food restaurants.

The Agricultural Marketing Service, the USDA agency that buys meat for the school lunch program, said inspection of meat served in schools exceeds those used before meat can be sold to the public. But, after USA Today presented its findings to USDA officials, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack promised an independent review of testing requirements for ground beef sent to schools.

The last update of quality standards for school lunches was in 2000.

What changes should the government make to the National School Lunch Program? Should it lower the price for families to participate in the program? Should it raise standards for meat served in schools?

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Ray Shapiro January 8, 2010 | 2:05 a.m.

I never could understand why parents don't send their children to school with a lunch made of leftovers from the previous night's dinner.
Creativity and control is relinquished by parents and we have bigger government taking on that which should be the parents job, feeding their own children.
Let the schools provide snacks of milk and some fresh local grown or seasonal veggies and fruit. (A drink of milk, an apple, some carrot sticks and P&J for the kids who forget to grab their brown bags will keep them alive.)
Use the money for education.
(I'm certain CPS would like a couple of million right now.)

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro January 8, 2010 | 2:21 a.m.

("Bilderberger Plot to Control U.S. Food Supply
March 7, 2009")
-And we want the government to pick, prepare and feed our children?

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro January 8, 2010 | 2:34 a.m.

("Ecoscience discusses a number of ways in which the global population could be reduced to combat what the authors see as mankind’s greatest threat – overpopulation. In each case, the proposals are couched in sober academic rhetoric, but the horrifying foundation of what Holdren and his co-authors are advocating is clear. These proposals include;
- Forcibly and unknowingly sterilizing the entire population by adding infertility drugs to the nation’s water and food supply.
President Obama’s top science and technology advisor John P. Holdren co-authored a 1977 book in which he advocated the formation of a “planetary regime” that would use a “global police force” to enforce totalitarian measures of population control, including forced abortions, mass sterilization programs conducted via the food and water supply, as well as mandatory bodily implants that would prevent couples from having children.")
Exactly what are the Bilderbergers cooking up for our children?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith January 8, 2010 | 5:40 a.m.

@ Ray Shapiro

Actually, Ray, there was a time when parents did send their children to school with lunches made from leftovers. Those lunches were contained in industrial style lunch "buckets," not sleek containers with cartoon characters embossed on them.

The kids had the same lunch buckets their fathers took to the mill (steel mill or whatever).

You must be a young whippersnapper, or else you attended one of those damned "country club" schools.

(Report Comment)
Dora Rivas January 8, 2010 | 7:29 a.m.

The most significant change Congress can make to the National School Lunch Program is to raise the federal reimbursement rate for school meals. The national average cost to prepare a school lunch is $2.92, but the federal reimbursement for each free lunch served is only $2.68. School nutrition programs struggle with tight budgets, limited resources and, in many cases, antiquated equipment. Despite these pressures, I have seen school nutrition programs nationwide demonstrate tremendous creativity and innovation in developing healthy, enticing school meals. Many schools find success with student taste tests, recipe contests, ethnic menu choices, school gardens or farm to school programs. Furthermore, kid favorites like pizza are being made more nutritious by switching to whole grain crusts, low-sodium sauce and low-fat cheese. To maintain the success of the National School Lunch Program and offer more students an even wider variety of healthy foods, Congress must make a greater investment in the program.

Dora Rivas, RD, SNS - School Nutrition Association President

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock January 8, 2010 | 9:12 a.m.

I also think we may have overlooked another important issue and that is the possible failure of the USDA.

"The Agricultural Marketing Service, the USDA agency that buys meat for the school lunch program, said inspection of meat served in schools exceeds those used before meat can be sold to the public. But, after USA Today presented its findings to USDA officials, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack promised an independent review of testing requirements for ground beef sent to schools."

Could it be that a government run agency failed school children? If this is true this will not be the first time they have failed in the inspection process.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro January 8, 2010 | 10:08 a.m.
(Report Comment)
Michelle Perkins January 8, 2010 | 11:27 a.m.

My biggest concern as a Child Nutrition Program Director is that school food service programs are caught directly in the middle. While we work diligently to meet the Federal nutrition requirements for all meals that we serve, we are also pushed into a corner when the children we are feeding come to us with poor food habits and prejudices that are already deeply ingrained.

While the parents keep screaming for school meals that are "more nutritious," I get the impression that they're really saying is, "feed MY child exactly what he or she wants!" So basically, we can never win. If the meals are "healthied up" then the kids don't want them because that isn't the same as the food they receive at home. Then we are targeted for wasting food or making kids take things they don't like.

Guess what, Mom and Dad? You cannot have it both ways. Bottom line is let us do what we do best, which is feed very large numbers of customers very reasonably priced meals in a very short period of time, as nutritionally sound as it can be made. If you want your child to be happy with their lunch, send it from home. But then don't be surprised when they trade their gluten-free crackers and tofu cheese for some real food!!

(Report Comment)
Brian Jeremy January 8, 2010 | 11:40 a.m.

The biggest concern for Child Nutrition programs is that they are in direct competition with the schools they are serving. The principals and special interest groups (fundraisers) have student stores and outside vendors that come in and directly compete with the federally funded school programs. The student stores do not have to meet the same nutritional criteria and can serve anything they like. Direct competition should definitely be addressed and so should open campus rules at high schools.

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock January 8, 2010 | 1:23 p.m.

Open campus rules? So you think that HS kids are going to visit a healthy place to eat if given the choice? Typically fatty foods are cheaper. IE dollar menu. Although Subway has some good stuff. Also junk food fundraisers are not a cause of overweight kids. Do you think that carrot sticks are going to raise money for a field trip? Face it, students come to school overweight and they will leave school overweight. For anyone to think that somehow the school will fix your kids weight problem without your involvement then you are sadly mistaken. People need to stop passing the buck and own up for their own faults and take care of their children. If you don't want your kids to buy the fatty foods then don't give them any money. You can pay the lunch lady direct. Of course this works with Elem and Middle schools. At the HS level students know what is good for them and what isn't.

(Report Comment)

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