You have heard of a sit-in. On Labor Day, September 7, there will be 100 Eat-Ins in communities across the U.S. Organized by Slow Food USA’s Time For Lunch program, the Eat-Ins are designed to bring together people in a community who want more nutritious food in schools. The Child Nutrition Act, first enacted in 1966, governs the National School Lunch Program which provides free lunches to over 30 million children at school every day. Every four of five years the Act must be reauthorized, and the deadline for reauthorizing it is in September, hence the reason for holding Eat-Ins on Labor Day.
Slow Food USA created the Time For Lunch program to bring attention to the need for healthy food for the over 30 million children who participate in the National School Lunch Program. The Time For Lunch program asks concerned people to contact their legislators and ask them to allocate $1 more per child per day for lunch. The program also wants strong standards for food sold in vending machines, and wants the government to provide mandatory funding to teach children healthy eating habits through farm-to-school programs and school gardens.
According to Slow Food USA, 32 percent of children 2 to19 are obese or overweight, and one in three born since 2000 are in danger of developing diabetes in their lifetime. A survey by the School Nutrition Association found that over 80 percent of schools cook less than half of their main dishes from scratch. Almost 40 percent of schools cook less than one-fourth of their entrees from scratch.
The USDA reimburses schools $2.57 per meal served to a student who qualifies for free lunch. Schools are allowed to divert the money received per meal from ingredients. Less than $1 goes toward actual ingredients, but instead goes toward labor, equipment, and overhead costs.
“The way we feed our kids is a reflection of our values. We cannot, in good conscience, continue to make our kids sick by feeding them cheap byproducts of an industrial food system,” said Josh Viertel, president, Slow Food USA. “It is time to give kids real food: food that tastes good, is good for them, is good for the people who grow and prepare it, and is good for the planet.”
A University of Minnesota study released in June found that food service workers in schools do not have the understanding and resources to meet the goal of including more whole-grain products in lunches. The study looked at school food service directors across Minnesota. The study also found that food service workers are not aware of the benefits of whole grain foods. The food directors cited higher costs and difficulty finding vendors who sell whole grain products as the reasons why they do not include more whole-grains in school lunches.
“The goal is to remove confusion surrounding the definition of a whole-grain food and to provide simple standards to follow when ordering whole grain products for school meals,” said Len Marquart, the project’s lead researcher and an assistant professor in the university’s food science and nutrition department. “This will require working together–enhanced communication among vendors, distributors and manufacturers along with key players in government, industry and school foodservice.”
A 2007 University of Minnesota study found school lunch sales do not decrease when healthier meals are served, and more nutritious meals do not necessarily cost more. Benjamin Senauer, one of three economists who wrote the study, said, “The conventional wisdom that you can’t serve healthier meals because kids won’t eat them is false.”