New Mexico law directs schools not to embarrass children when parents have not paid for their lunches

“In what its supporters say is the first such legislation in the country, New Mexico has outlawed shaming children whose parents are behind on school lunch payments,” the New York Times reports.

On Thursday, Gov. Susana Martinez signed the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights, which directs schools to work with parents to pay their debts or sign up for federal meal assistance and puts an end to practices meant to embarrass children. It applies to public, private and religious schools that receive federal subsidies for students’ breakfasts and lunches.

The law’s passage is a victory for anti-hunger activists, who have long been critical of lunch-shaming practices that single out children with insufficient funds on their electronic swipe cards or who lack the necessary cash. These practices can include making the child wear a wrist band or requiring the child to perform chores in exchange for a meal.

In some cases, cafeteria workers have been ordered to throw away the hot lunches of children who owed money, giving them alternatives like sandwiches, milk and fruit.

This issue was also covered on the Today Show: ‘School lunch shaming’ is now against the law in New Mexico.

Food truck delivers lunch to students on Monday holiday

Capital Schools’ food truck now delivers: District to keep kids fed when schools are off. The Delaware State News reports that a new food truck run by the Capital School District delivered free lunches to children on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. This was a test run for food deliveries this summer.

The new food truck cost an estimated $147,000 and was purchased with federal school lunch program grants.

The truck will visit communities Monday through Thursday each week during the summer break and provide a free lunch to anyone 18 years old and younger.

Advocacy group rates school food in Maryland

Healthy School Food Maryland recently published a report card on school food in Maryland.  “The group examined each of Maryland’s school systems based on 12 factors that organizers said are of concern to parents and public health advocates,’ the Washington Post reports.

The 2016 School Food Environment Grades considered the following criteria:

  • Consistent access to potable water,
  • Use of local produce and farm-to-school programs,
  • Policies prohibiting artificial colors, flavors and other chemicals in school food,
  • Access to healthier vending options both during and outside of the school day,
  • Existence and transparency about a district-level standing wellness committee or its equivalent,
  • Policies and practices to reduce sugar in school food,
  • Transparency about school foods,
  • Amount of scratch cooking,
  • Variety and repetition of meals,
  • Policies on the marketing of foods of minimal nutritional value in school, and
  • The existence and quality of salad bars.

The bullet point about policies prohibiting artificial colors, flavors and other chemicals seems to be overly restrictive. Here is how it is described:

Chemicals: While the federal regulatory system for allowing new chemicals in the food supply fails to follow the precautionary principle or address a preponderance of scientific evidence that should preclude certain additives, consumer watchdog groups like Center for Science in the Public Interest have brought to the public’s attention the need for concern over many chemical additives commonly found in school foods, such as synthetic food dyes, artificial flavors and preservatives like BHA, BHT and TBHQ. Kudos to Montgomery County, the sole school system in the state with a policy that goes beyond federal regulations, prohibiting certain chemicals such as MSG, BHA, TBHQ and several synthetic food dyes and artificial sweeteners in their food, thanks in large part to the advocacy of Real Food for Kids – Montgomery, the lead partner of the HSFMD coalition

Although Montgomery County was praised on this point, the Post reported, “Montgomery scored lower on easy access to drinking water at lunch, school-based salad bars and limiting vending machines to healthier items even after school hours end.”

Marla Caplon, director of food and nutrition services in Montgomery, said the report card was too narrowly focused and not a fair reflection of the county’s approach. Twenty-five schools have salad bars, she said, but middle schools and high schools offer an entree salad daily, and fresh fruits and vegetables are offered at all schools every day. She also said elementary students who get school lunches are offered free bottles of water.

Howard County was given a grade of A+. The Carroll County and Frederick County school districts were given B+ grades. Most other school systems were given a C or C + grade. Allegany received a D+ grade and Garret County an F. The Post reports that Worcester County did not fully participate in the study. All the school systems met state and federal school food requirements.

Six Illinois high schools will have later start times next year

Next year schools in Township High School District 214 in Illinois will start school 45 minutes later than the current schedule. The Chicago Tribune reports that four high schools will start at 8:15 and end at 3:10 p.m. Two other high schools with block schedules will start at 8 a.m. and 8:05 a.m.

The new schedule will also allow students to take eight classes in place of a lunch.

According to Wikipedia, “Township High School District 214 is located in Cook County, Illinois. It is the state’s second largest high school district by enrollment. Its headquarters are in Arlington Heights.”

Salad bars in school lunch lines encourage more students to choose fruits and vegetables

Salad bars in school lunch serving lines are more effective than separate salad bars away from the main servings line in promoting consumption of fruits and vegetables, according to a recent study by researchers at Arizona State University. The Packer reports, “The study found that almost all students (98.6%) in the schools with salad bars inside serving lines self-served fruits and vegetables, compared with only 22.% of students who self-served fruits and vegetables in the schools with salad bars outside lines.”

The research published by the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is titled “Location of School Lunch Salad Bars and Fruit and Vegetable Consumption in Middle Schools: A Cross-Sectional Plate Waste Study.”

The study also found that students with the salad bar outside the serving line wasted less fruits and vegetables (30%) compared  with those who used salad bars inside the serving line  (48%).

Senate bill would give schools more flexibility on school meal requirements

NBC News reports that a bipartisan Senate agreement would give schools more flexibility on school lunch and breakfast rules, “easing requirements on whole grains and delaying an upcoming deadline to cut sodium levels.”

The School Nutrition Association posted an analysis of the proposed legislation.

SNA worked to identify solutions for Child Nutrition Reauthorization

The non-profit School Nutrition Association (SNA) worked collaboratively with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the White House and the Senate Agriculture Committee to reach an agreement to improve nutrition standards for school meals. The agreement preserves strong standards to benefit students while easing some regulatory mandates to alleviate unintended challenges facing school meal programs. The agreement will be included in the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill, scheduled for a markup on Wednesday.

“SNA was pleased to work alongside USDA in crafting practical solutions to help school nutrition professionals in their ongoing efforts to improve school meal programs for students,” said SNA President Jean Ronnei, SNS. “In the absence of increased funding, this agreement eases operational challenges and provides school meal programs critical flexibility to help them plan healthy school meals that appeal to students.”

“SNA members greatly appreciate the leadership of Chairman Pat Roberts, Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, and Senator John Hoeven for their efforts to address some of the unintended challenges resulting from school nutrition regulations,” said Ronnei.


WHOLE GRAINS: Under current regulations, all grains offered with school meals must be whole grain rich – down to the croutons on the fresh salad bar. This agreement requires 80% of the grains offered with school meals be whole grain rich, allowing schools to offer occasional servings of enriched grains. The change provides flexibility for schools struggling with product availability and allows schools to make special exceptions to appeal to diverse student tastes and regional preferences for items like white tortillas or biscuits that don’t meet current standards.

SODIUM: Schools have made great strides in reducing sodium to meet Target 1 sodium levels, effective on July 1, 2014. However, school nutrition professionals have warned that later sodium targets will push many healthy options, like low-fat deli sandwiches, soups and salads off the menu, due in part to naturally occurring sodium in foods.

Under the agreement, schools gain two additional years to meet Target 2 limits, which will now take effect on July 1, 2019. Starting in 2019, a study will be conducted to determine whether scientific research supports the final sodium limits (effective July 1, 2022) and whether food companies are capable of preparing foods that meet those limits. The study will also evaluate the impact of Target 2 limits on student lunch participation, food cost, safety and food service operations.

A LA CARTE: Smart Snacks in School regulations (effective July 1, 2014) severely limited the items sold in cafeteria a la carte lines, prohibiting the sale of everything from low-fat, whole-grain pizza to salads or hummus with a side of whole grain pretzels. As a result, students have fewer healthy choices in the cafeteria and schools have collected less revenue to offset the higher cost of meeting new regulations. This agreement will establish a working group to examine the impact of a la carte restrictions and recommend to USDA a list of allowable nutrient-dense food exemptions for a la carte sale.

FRUIT AND VEGETABLE MANDATES: The updated regulations required schools to offer students larger servings and a wider variety of fruits or vegetables; however, rules requiring every student to take a fruit or vegetable with every school meal has increased the amount of produce being thrown away in the cafeteria. Although salad bars and sharing tables help reduce food waste by allowing students to select the foods they prefer and share foods they don’t care to eat, some local food safety inspectors have discouraged schools from utilizing them. Under the agreement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and USDA will establish new guidance, designed for local governments, confirming the safety of and encouraging the use of salad bars and sharing tables.

SNA had requested an increase in the federal reimbursement rate for school meals to help schools offset the higher cost of meeting new nutrition standards. When the regulations were released, USDA estimated increased food and labor costs under the new rules would amount to a 10 cent increase in the cost of preparing every lunch and 27 cent increase in the cost of preparing every breakfast. Congress provided schools an additional 6 cents for each lunch served, but no extra funding for breakfast. As a result, schools are financially struggling under the regulations, as indicated by a recent SNA survey.

“SNA will continue working with partners to support school meal programs and to seek additional assistance to help schools manage increased costs and improve meals for students,” said Ronnei.

Allow whole milk in school meals

For decades, the government steered millions away from whole milk. Was that wrong? The clear answer to the question posed by the Washington Post today is yes, it was wrong. In July I said that the government should change overly restrictive limits on fat content in school meals.

In a study I co-authored for the League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area in May 2014, we quoted comments questioning recommendations against whole milk:

Comments: “Remarkably few randomized clinical trials have examined the effects of reduced-fat milk (0 percent to 2 percent fat content) compared with whole milk on weight gain or other health outcomes,” David S. Ludwig and Walter C. Willett write in JAMA Pediatrics. Their article questions the scientific rationale for promoting reduced-fat milk consumption at these levels in children and adults and reconsiders the role of cow’s milk in human nutrition. CBS news reports that another study in the Archives of Disease in Childhood “echoed the JAMA study and showed that children who drank lower-fat milk were more likely to be overweight later in life.”

The Post is unpersuasive in trying to dismiss critics of some school lunch regulations

I am disappointed by the cursory and biased editorial in the Washington Post that says, “Don’t let lobbyists decide what your children eat at school.”

Perhaps the editors are hoping that readers will recoil at the mention of the word “lobbyists.” If that isn’t enough to make the point, the editors ascribe all criticism of the new school meal regulations to the “School Lunch Industrial Complex.”

Perhaps the editors are too busy to notice the news printed in their own paper that would lead any reasonable person to be concerned about overly restrictive limits on sodium. I quoted the Post last April: Prevent drastic reductions in sodium in school meals.

An op-ed in the New York Times was the inspiration for another blog post in July: Government should change overly restrictive limits on fat content in school meals .

I’ll provide more information in the coming weeks.

Fruit and vegetable requirement is counterproductive

The new requirement that students take more fruits and vegetables in their school lunches has led to decreased consumption and increased waste. A study demonstrating this result was published in the Journal of Public Health: Impact of the National School Lunch Program on Fruit and Vegetable Selection in Northeastern Elementary Schoolchildren, 2012-2013.

While these data from one geographic area may not be generalizable to other regions, we based the measures of consumption and waste on validated, objective measures,” the study said. “Furthermore, the findings are consistent with those from other parts of the country where requiring a child to select an FV also corresponded with decreased consumption and increased food waste.”

“The basic question we wanted to explore was: does requiring a child to select a fruit or vegetable actually correspond with consumption. The answer was clearly no,” Amin, the lead author of the study, said in a statement quoted by the Washington Post.

The Post article explains why the healthy school lunch program is in trouble:

What they found was worrisome on several fronts. Because they were forced to do it, children took fruits and vegetables — 29 percent more in fact. But their consumption of fruits and vegetables actually went down 13 percent after the mandate took effect and, worse, they were throwing away a distressing 56 percent more than before.

The waste each child (or tray) was producing went from a quarter of a cup to more than a 39 percent of a cup each meal. In many cases, the researchers wrote, “children did not even taste the [fruits and vegetables] they chose at lunch.”

My grandmother, Lois Hazlehurst Fitz, used to say, “Willful waste makes woeful want.”

It is time for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to abandon this unsuccessful experiment which has led to willful waste. Some may argue that more food going into the trash is still worthwhile because at least it will lead to increased consumption. However, since consumption has decreased, the waste is even more troubling. This is an inexcusable waste of food.

It is great to offer a nice variety of fruits and vegetables; however, it is counterproductive to serve unwanted food to students.

Kasich whimsically proposes abolishing teachers’ lounges

Ohio Governor John Kasich, musing about what he would do if he were to become king, rather than president, of the United States, said he would abolish all teachers’ lounges. Speaking at an education forum attended by six of the Republican presidential candidates, Kasich imagined that the lounges are places where teachers “sit together and worry about “woe is us.”

Politico reportsAmerican Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten fired back on Twitter.

.@JohnKasich -after u get rid of places teachers eat lunch,what’s next -getting rid of teachers’ chairs so they stand all day? #walkitback

And Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association, bashed Kasich for his expansion of private school vouchers and past cuts to education spending.

“Educators will absolutely discuss how they can overcome these obstacles to help their students, as well as hold elected leaders accountable,” she said in a statement.

Politico also posted Takeaways from the GOP education forum, which was held Wednesday at Londonderry, N.H.