Category Archives: schools

Brown-bagging it isn’t always as healthy as the school cafeteria

Healthy school lunch with bookWe’ll admit it. We’re a little surprised by this information coming out of the Washington Post. While we understand that the nutritional quality of school lunches has received a major upgrade, FoodFacts.com has just assumed that lunches prepared at home and packed in backpacks would still possess greater nutritional value than cafeteria food. It appears this isn’t always the case.

The Post compared 1,300 school cafeteria and brown bag lunches at three Virginia schools. They found that the packed lunches contained more calories, carbs, fat and sugar — as well as less protein, fiber and calcium when compared with the National School Lunch Program meals.

The 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act require schools to increase fruits, veggies, whole grains, and low-fat milk; reduce sodium and saturated fat in the foods they serve; and meet nutrition needs for schoolchildren. Parent-packed meals do not have to meet any guidelines. About 90 percent of schools reported that they met these standards for the most recent school year, up from just 14 percent four years ago.

About 40 percent of children bring a packed lunch to school. However, the Post found that lunches from home contained more desserts, unhealthy snack items like chips, sugar-sweetened beverages, and fewer healthy items like fruits and veggies.

The report is in line with a recent study of schools in Massachusetts, which found that only 27 percent of the packed lunches met at least three of the five federal standards.

Parents can improve the quality of their lunches by including fresh fruit and vegetables in each meal, substituting a sugary drink for water or milk, and get rid of desserts in favor of a fruit. They should also involve their children in making decisions on what to eat, and help encourage them to eat healthier foods by giving them a choice between healthy options.

We get that parents today are busier than ever. The world is on overdrive for most of us as we shoulder more responsibilities than ever before. While that snack-sized bag of chips or Goldfish crackers may be easier to throw in a lunchbox than sliced apples or pears, there are things we just shouldn’t be willing to forego for our kids. There are easy ways to sneak in some additional nutrition with lunch. A wrap instead of a sandwich can house some vegetables. Yogurt and fruit can easily take the place of chips and cookies. Healthy eating habits are what we want instilled in our children from the youngest of ages. It will make a difference in the choices they make for themselves later on and it’s certainly worth the extra effort.

Let’s catch up with school lunches and make sure our kids are eating right — not only when they’re at home — but in the middle of their busy school days as well!

http://dailydigestnews.com/2014/11/packed-lunches-are-often-more-unhealthy-than-school-lunches-report-finds/

Ohio’s Legendary Pink Cookie Banned from Cafeterias

YouTube-screenshot-WEWS-NewsChannel5-AFP-Getty-Images-Jim-WatsonWe’re all pretty happy about the new nutritional standards for our schools. It’s great to know that there are now real rules in place that govern the fat, sugar, salt and calorie content of the foods our kids choose to consume while they are in their school environment. But there are some things in some places that some people really just don’t want to let go of. And that’s what today’s blog post is all about.

Now, thanks to federal regulations, students in all 11 taxpayer-funded public schools in Elyria, Ohio cannot enjoy the famous Elyria pink cookie anymore.

This cookie is no ordinary cookie, according to The Chronicle-Telegram, the Cleveland suburb’s local newspaper.

It’s a velvety, cake-like, scrumptious delicacy glazed with a huge dollop of sugary pink icing. Cleveland magazine dubbed the Elyria pink cookie the “Best Cafeteria Cookie” in 2009. Locals will even call up asking for special bulk orders of the tasty treat.

The originator of the Elyria pink cookies, Jean Gawlik, formulated the legendary confection almost 40 years ago using a simple, personal recipe her late mother had given her. It includes lots of butter, a couple different kinds of sugar, some Crisco and sour cream.

As local ABC affiliate WEWS notes, the cookie has been a staple on the local school menu since roughly the Carter administration.

This year, though, students in the Elyria must say goodbye to all that because of calorie restrictions.

“We can’t have them in the cafeteria for sale, period,” Scott Teaman, who runs the district’s cafeteria services, told The Chronicle-Telegram. “The guidelines for snacks are very strict, and there is no wiggle room.”

FoodFacts.com would have to bet that there are plenty of home cooks in Elyria who already know the recipe for the scrumptious pink cookie. While we know it will be missed, we’re certain it won’t die as a community tradition. We do understand that folks are upset — but we’re willing to go out on a limb here and say that the beloved pink cookie will live on. And we’re happy about that. We do still, though, think it’s best that we all stick to the nutritional standards currently being enforced in our schools.

Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2014/08/23/now-michelle-obama-has-caused-americas-best-cafeteria-cookie-to-be-outlawed/#ixzz3Bq6ThJrL

New school nutrition program proves to make a real difference in eating habits and BMI

New School Nutrition Program Improves Eating Habits and BMISchool lunches have been making the news for the last few years. Government nutrition standards have changed, providing schools nationwide with better meal and snack options for our kids. While there are varying opinions on the effects of the new standards, they’ve generally been viewed as a positive step helping children to make healthier choices by providing better foods in their cafeterias. Now we have new information surrounding an innovative program that’s been tested.

Can we fight childhood obesity by telling kids to eat more, not less? Researchers behind a new comprehensive school nutrition and wellness program say you get further by offering kids a carrot — literally, in this case — by giving them reasons to be excited about fruits and vegetables, rather than harping about what they should avoid, such as sugar-sweetened beverages.

In a randomized control study, the researchers found 4th-graders who participated in the nutrition program ate substantially more fruits and vegetables and lowered their body mass index (BMI) during the school year that the program was implemented. The percentage of 4th-graders who were overweight or obese dropped from 56 percent to 38 percent over the course of the year.

“We take the approach that positive messages are going to be more readily adopted by students than restrictive messages,” said Rachel Scherr, Ph.D., an assistant project scientist at the University of California at Davis and one of the study’s lead investigators. “For us, the most important thing is that the kids and their families really enjoyed the program. It was very successful, and I think it was critical that we focused on empowering kids and their families to want to make a change.”

The “Shaping Healthy Choices Program” takes a holistic approach to engage students, schools, parents and community partners in building healthful habits. At its core is a curriculum that integrates classroom nutrition activities with physical activity and gardening. It also includes cooking demonstrations and recipes, health-related activities for school events, family newsletters and guidance for school lunchrooms to encourage healthy eating, for example, by creating a salad bar.

Four elementary schools in two California school districts participated in the study. In each district, one school received the Shaping Healthy Choices Program over the course of the 2012-2013 school year while the other school did not. The researchers assessed several outcomes including students’ BMI, reported dietary intake and knowledge about nutrition at the start and end of the school year.

Although the analyses are still underway, preliminary results from one district show participating children dropped their BMI percentile by nearly 9 points, from an average of the 77th percentile to an average of the 68th percentile. Participating 4th-grade children who reported eating one or fewer servings of vegetables per day at the start of the study increased their vegetable intake by 40 percent. Students at the school that did not receive the Shaping Healthy Choices Program showed no change in BMI, vegetable intake or nutrition knowledge.

Scherr said the results show that the program has a real impact on students’ health. “When we designed the study, we anticipated short-term outcomes like kids having more knowledge of nutrition or being able to identify more vegetables. We always had a long-term goal of decreasing BMI, but we didn’t anticipate that it would happen in such a short timeframe. We are thrilled,” said Scherr.

The program was designed to be easily integrated into the Common Core standards now being rolled out in 44 U.S. states. The program’s multiple components can be adopted separately or together, though the study only evaluated the effectiveness of the full program.

The researchers plan to make the full program toolkit available online for free by the end of 2014, including professional development resources to facilitate the program’s implementation. Although the researchers played a major role in implementing the program at the test schools during the study, they believe that most schools will be able to adopt the program without outside assistance.

This honestly sounds like fun for kids! FoodFacts.com can’t think of a better way for schools to improve eating habits than by teaching. Nutrition activities, gardening, cooking and recipes are all engaging approaches to teaching a healthier lifestyle. We think it sounds like fun even if you’re an adult! We’re looking forward to hearing more about this program in the months to come!

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140427185146.htm

More kids are eating more fruits and vegetables at lunch

lunches.jpgThere’s news coming in about the effect of the new nutritional guidelines for U.S. schools and it does appear to be encouraging. New standards went into effect in 2012 that required students to include at least one fruit or vegetable on their lunch trays.

A new study that’s been released from the Harvard School of Public Health  clearly shows that there are students who are eating more fruits and vegetables at lunch. Of course, they’re still tossing plenty of produce into the trash, researchers are taking the results as an encouraging sign.

While the study is limited to 1,030 students at low-income elementary and middle schools in the Boston area, it is the first to track student trays from the lunch line to the trash can since the new standards became effective.

In addition to requiring the addition of a fruit or vegetable with lunch, the standards have made vegetable servings bigger and have provided a greater variety of vegetables from which students can choose. They also limit calories and sodium and call for more whole grains than in the past. Some anecdotal reports suggest students nationwide are throwing away more food as a result.

“But the new standards are actually improving diets,” at least at the schools studied, says lead researcher Juliana Cohen.

Research teams visited each school twice before the changes, in fall 2011, and twice after the changes, in fall 2012. They noted tray contents in the lunch line and then collected the numbered trays and weighed the leftovers after lunch. Among key findings:

• All students took entrees, which included foods such as pizza, burgers and sandwich wraps. They ate 88% of those foods in 2012, vs. 72% in 2011.
• 68% took vegetables in both years. They ate 41% in 2012, vs. 25% in 2011.
• 76% took fruit in 2012, up from 53% in 2011. They ate 55% in 2012, down slightly from 58% in 2011 – but because more students chose fruit, overall consumption rose, researchers say.

Kids threw away huge amounts of fruits and vegetables, but the study shows that was happening before the change, Cohen says.

The findings come as school food service directors, represented by the School Nutrition Association, are in Washington, D.C., lobbying Congress to eliminate mandatory servings of fruits and vegetables and slow down other changes. They cite a report just out from the U.S. Government Accountability Office showing a 3.7% decline in students taking school lunches.

“Our members have always encouraged students to take fruits and vegetables, but it’s counterproductive to force it,” especially for older students, says Leah Schmidt, president of the association and director of nutrition services at the Hickman Mills School District in Kansas City, Mo. “There are students who will not eat a fruit or vegetable, and as they get older, they feel they have that right.”

She says the new study is “a very small sample… but I’m glad some schools are experiencing that” increase in fruit and vegetable consumption.

“Kids are picky,” and change is hard, says Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group that fought for tougher standards. Schools can reduce waste and get more kids on board without weakening the standards, she says.

“Many schools are working really hard not only to improve the nutritional quality of their offerings but to improve the kid appeal,” she says.

Those of us with children might think back to our pediatrician’s advice when it came to feeding our toddlers. It was simply to offer a variety of healthy food choices for them to try. Improving the nutritional quality of the food choices in our schools and offering a wider variety of fruits and vegetables actually echoes the advice given to parents for their little ones.

When schools followed the new rules and offered foods with better nutritional value, our kids made better choices at lunch because the choices given were better. In addition, when required to choose a fruit or a vegetable while being given a wider array of selections, more kids actually ate the fruit or vegetable. FoodFacts.com does think this is largely about the choices given. Yes, we know that there’s still plenty of produce that finds its way to the trash can, but we certainly don’t think we should be taking steps to reverse or slow down any of these changes. We know most children aren’t ecstatic about fruits and vegetables. Whatever we can do to help them eat more of them during lunch should be done. And we should all feel encouraged that there are some indications that lunch habits seem to be improving.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/03/04/school-lunch-rules-vegetables-fruit/5979683/

Smaller serving pieces of fruit can help kids consume their recommended daily requirements!

Most of us here at FoodFacts.com love biting into a big, juicy apple, or peeling an orange and enjoying the whole fruit – the same holds true for pears, and bananas. It really hadn’t occurred to us that there might be kids all over the country who are turned off to eating fruit based on the simple concept that bite-sized pieces are more appealing to them.

A new study from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab takes a closer look at why children are avoiding fruit in the school cafeteria line and if, perhaps, that “ready-to-eat”, no additional work required appearance could, in fact, encourage kids to consume more fruit. While most believe that children avoid fruit because of the taste and the competition fruit faces from packaged snacks, the researchers wanted to dig deeper and see if there were really other reasons for kids to pass fruit up in their school cafeterias.

The researchers designed a pilot study that included eight elementary schools within the same district. First, they gave each school a commercial food slicer and instructed cafeteria personnel to use it when a child requested an apple. The fruit slicer cut the apple into six pieces and took between three and four seconds to use on each apple. Initial results of the pilot study showed that fruit sales increased by an average of 61% when the apples were sliced for the kids. They then interviewed the students and found out that they disliked eating fruit in school for two main reasons. The first was that for the younger kids, who might be wearing braces or be missing a few teeth, a whole fruit was inconvenient to eat. Older girls stated that they felt they looked unattractive eating a whole fruit in front of other kids and were self conscious about it. The sliced fruit solved both these issues for the children.

The researchers then expanded the pilot study to confirm the initial findings by adding six middle schools in the same district. Three of the six were given the fruit slicers while the others continued normal cafeteria operations, acting as a control. The fruit slices were placed in cups in two of the three schools and on a try in the third school. To accurately access actual consumption, field researchers were assigned to every school to record how much of the apple was wasted by counting the number of slices thrown away by each student.

These results showed that sales of apples in the schools using the fruit slicers increased by 71% compared to the control schools selling the whole fruit. Most importantly, researchers found that the percentage of students who ate more than half of the apple they purchased increased by 73%.

This pilot study showed that, in fact, taste and competition from processed snacks may not be the reason kids aren’t consuming fruit in school. When the fruit was made easier to eat, more kids were purchasing it and, most importantly, more of them were eating more of it. So for a small investment ($200 for the slicers) kids were encouraged to make healthier choices and waste less of the choices they made.

What a great, simple idea! FoodFacts.com hopes that this study gets the recognition it deserves from school districts all over the country. We wonder if these researchers are actually on to something for adults as well.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130417165007.htm

Nutrition software, coming to a school near you (well eventually, anyway)

In case anyone in the Food Facts community hasn’t noticed, schools all over the country have been issuing electronic payment cards for student school lunches. Parents transfer money onto the card and then students use the card similarly to an ATM, with the cost being debited from the money in the account. Frankly, it took my own family a while to get used to … the card ended up in pockets that got washed and became unusable and the school was enormously patient with us as we (read my children) became used to the idea that those cards were important and needed to be treated that way. It all worked out in the end. But we were a bit mystified as to why we couldn’t just give the kids a five dollar bill every day to pay for their lunch (no potential card washing involved).

On Wednesday, a really fascinating article was published on Indystar.com (the Gannett owned Indiana newspaper). It gave us an insight as to why the electronic lunch payment cards have been issued and we thought our community might like to have a better understanding. So we’ll sum it up for you here.

This fall, the Waukee school district in Indianapolis will be implementing new nutrition software. With this implementation, parents will now have online access to monitor their kid’s food purchases in school. The software, called PrimeroEdge is manufactured by Cybersoft.

Parents will have online access to nutrition information for all meals available in their children’s school. That will include calories, carbs, sodium and fat. They’ll also be able to access ingredient lists. And, of course, they’ll be able to view the food purchases their kids are making on their school lunch card accounts. To be honest, I’m kind of embarrassed that I couldn’t figure out why we were getting those cards in the first place – even if we don’t live in Indianapolis.

When this comes to where my family lives, I’ll be able to go online and see the food choices my kids are making during the day. It might open valuable conversations between us … things like “wasn’t there anything better on the menu today?” or “wow, you went through that money pretty quick, what exactly were you snacking on?” or “gee, maybe you want to eat some fruit instead of those cookies at least a few days a week.”

But for me, personally, it will be a better window into the nutritional value of the food being served. It’s no secret that we’ve had some pretty odd occurrences regarding the nutritional value of school lunches in our country (ketchup as a vegetable, anyone?). And to be honest, some of the preparation choices in some areas as early as six years ago were kind of questionable for very young children. Kids can be picky eaters and tend to appreciate more honest food they recognize that feature fresh ingredients. Ask your children what salads look like in their schools (my own have told me that the lettuce is wilted, the tomatoes have no taste and the dressing comes in a packet).

If this software improves the communication between parents, children and schools regarding nutritional value and eating habits, we’re certainly all for it.

We’d love to hear opinions from our Food Facts community. Take a look at this link and tell us what you think.

http://www.indystar.com/article/D2/20120628/COMM/306280026/New-software-will-let-parents-monitor-kids-eating-habits?odyssey=nav|head

It would appear it’s coming soon, to a school near you!

Healthier school lunches off the menu

FoodFacts.com just came across this information reported by the Associated Press. Congress is pushing back against the Obama Administration’s efforts to take unhealthy foods out of schools.

As reported by Mary Clare Jalonick, the final version of a spending bill released late Monday would “dumb down” school lunch standards that were proposed earlier this year. Importantly, these standards included limiting the use of potatoes on the lunch menu, while putting new restrictions on sodium and boosting the use of whole grains. This latest legislation would block or delay all those efforts.

The bill also seeks to allow tomato paste on pizzas to be counted as a vegetable. Currently the USDA wants to count a half-cup or more of tomato paste as a vegetable. One serving of pizza has less than that. It is a throw back to the Reagan administration’s failed attempt to classify ketch as a vegetable in schools. Today, however, it seems that frozen pizza manufacturers, the salt industry and potato growers have been lobbying congress to make the changes that will make them happy. The school meals that are subsidized by the federal government have to include a certain amount of vegetables. The fear has been that the USDA’s proposals could have pushed pizza and potatoes out of the school lunch business.

Some school districts have acknowledged that some of the USDA proposals do cost too much at a time when budgets are stretched to their limits. The school lunch proposal is based on 2009 recommendations by the Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences. It is felt that these proposals would help to reduce childhood obesity and lower future health care costs. The USDA has clearly spoken out against these congressional efforts and will continue to work to make school lunches healthier, saying this was a clear case of putting political interests ahead of American children. Congress’s changes would probably result in restricting schools from serving a wider array of vegetables. Pizza and potatoes abound on school lunch menus. In making sure these things remain untouched in the proposal, congress is blocking the limiting of starchy vegetables to two servings each week. Many schools serve starchy vegetables daily.

FoodFacts.com will continue to follow this story for our community. But we’d like to send a message to Congress: two tablespoons of tomato paste is not a serving of vegetables.

Chicago school bans homemade lunches, the latest in national food fight

CT  SCHOOL-LUNCH-2C_MAIN 0411 KMStudents who attend Chicago’s Little Village Academy public school get nothing but nutritional tough love during their lunch period each day. The students can either eat the cafeteria food–or go hungry. Only students with allergies are allowed to bring a homemade lunch to school, the Chicago Tribune reports.

“Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school,” principal Elsa Carmona told the paper of the years-old policy. “It’s about … the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom). It’s milk versus a Coke.”

But students said they would rather bring their own lunch to school in the time-honored tradition of the brown paper bag. “They’re afraid that we’ll all bring in greasy food instead of healthy food and it won’t be as good as what they give us at school,” student Yesenia Gutierrez told the paper. “It’s really lame.”

The story has attracted hundreds of comments so far. One commenter, who says her children attend a different Chicago public school, writes, “I can accept if they want to ban soda, but to tell me I can’t send a lunch with my child. ARE YOU KIDDING ME????”

For parents whose kids do not qualify for free or reduced price school lunches, the $2.25 daily cafeteria price can also tally more than a homemade lunch. “We don’t spend anywhere close to that on my son’s daily intake of a sandwich (lovingly cut into the shape of a Star Wars ship), Goldfish crackers and milk,” Northwestern education policy professor Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach told the paper in an email. She told The Lookout parents at her child’s public school would be upset if they tried to ban homemade lunches.

“I think that lots of parents at least at my child’s school do think that what they pack is more nutritious [than school lunches],” she said. A Chicago public school teacher started a blog to protest the city’s school lunches, and last year the schools tightened their nutrition standards for cafeteria-served school lunches. Every lunch must contain whole grains, only reduced-fat salad dressings and mayonnaise are offered as condiments, and the meals must feature a different vegetable each day. Meal providers also must reduce sodium content by 5 percent annually. About 86 percent of the district’s students qualify for free or reduced price school lunches because their families live close to the poverty line.

Change in Chicago’s school cafeterias feeds into a larger effort to combat the country’s childhood obesity epidemic. About a third of America’s kids are overweight or obese, and since children consume at least 30 percent of their calories while in school, making lunches healthier is seen as one way to counter that problem. Poorer kids are also more likely to be obese or overweight than middle class kids, and to consume a bigger proportion of their calories while at school. Forty-four percent of American kids living below the poverty line are obese or overweight, according to a 2010 study published in Health Affairs.

While we haven’t been able to track down another school that bans homemade lunches outright, many smaller food battles have been playing out in cafeterias across the country. As principals try to counter obesity in their schools, healthy intentions can come across as overreach, occasionally sparking parent and student anger.

Alabama parents protested a school’s rule that barred students from bringing any drinks from home, as ice water was provided at lunch. East Syracuse, New York schools have outlawed cupcakes and other desserts. And schools around the country have kicked out chocolate milk and soda vending machines. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin even showed up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, with dozens of cookies to express her disdain for a debate in the state about recommending teachers limit the number of times per month the sugary treats are eaten in classroom birthday celebrations.

Tucson, Arizona’s Children’s Success Academy allows home-packed lunches–but only if nothing in them contains white flour, refined sugar, or other “processed” foods, the Arizona Republic reported in a story last year. The school has no cafeteria, so some parents told the paper they struggled to find foods to pack that meet the restrictions. Many schools ban fast food or other take-out meals.

Soon, cafeteria offerings across the country will all be healthier, whether students like it or not. Last year’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, championed by First Lady Michelle Obama, calls for higher nutritional standards to serve the 32 million kids who eat lunch every day at school (most of whom qualify for free or reduced price lunches through a federal government program). For the first time, the USDA will set calorie limits for school lunches, and will recommend they contain more vegetables and whole grains, and less salt, USA Today reports. French fries should be replaced by vegetables and fruit, the guidelines say.

The bill also calls for stricter food safety checks on cafeteria food.

Article provided by: Liz Goodwin