NATIONAL HARBOR, MD (June 8, 2010)—A study released today on health-related policies in elementary schools fails to report on significant improvements in the meals served to America’s students through the National School Lunch Program. The study, released by Bridging the Gap, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, offers incomplete and misleading information about the foods served in school meals.
For example, the survey asked schools whether they offer salad bars to students, but failed to ask about pre-packaged salads and other fresh fruit and vegetable options available to participating children. With incredibly limited resources, many school nutrition programs simply do not have the necessary funds to purchase salad bars and provide constant staff oversight needed to ensure food safety and protect against cross-contamination. However, the School Nutrition Association’s 2009 Operations Report found that students have access to a variety of healthy food choices with 91 percent of school districts nationwide offering either salad bars or pre-packaged salads and 98.8 percent offering fresh fruits and vegetables.
The Bridging the Gap survey also failed to acknowledge that kid favorites served through the National School Lunch Program must meet federal nutrition standards limiting fat, and schools have taken steps to make these items more nutritious. Many schools have eliminated fryers and now bake French fries and offer sweet potato fries. Pizza is often prepared with whole grain crusts, low fat cheese and low sodium sauce. And these items are rarely offered on a daily basis – the report found that only 1 percent of schools surveyed offer fries “most or every day” and in only 5 percent of schools is pizza a choice “most or every day.”
“School nutrition programs have made tremendous strides, even in the last two years since this data was collected, to improve the nutrition, variety and taste of the healthy food choices offered under the National School Lunch Program,” said School Nutrition Association President Dora Rivas, MS, RD, SNS, and executive director of Food and Child Nutrition Services for the Dallas Independent School District in Texas. “Every day, despite financial constraints, school nutrition programs are ‘bridging the gap’ between breakfast and dinner with more fruits and vegetables and healthy lunch options. Each year, these programs are becoming more innovative from new nutrition education initiatives to locally sourced foods.”
School nutrition professionals do support the study’s policy recommendations as a way to build on the success of school meals programs. To offer an even greater variety of fresh produce, low-fat dairy products and whole grains, Congress must increase the federal reimbursement rate for school meals.
School Nutrition Association also supports consistent national nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools during the school day. While local school wellness policies have encouraged school administrators to switch to healthy vending, federal policy should be established to ensure students receive the same messages about healthy food choices when they step outside the cafeteria.
School Nutrition Association and its members are working to promote healthy school environments and are proud partners of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign.