Why School Meals Rock

Salad Month, May 2016, Portland Public Schools

At Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, we believe school meals and other child nutrition programs are critical tools to prevent child hunger. We support these programs because we know that without them more kids in Oregon would be hungry. We celebrate the thousands of hardworking cooks, nutrition professionals, administrators and educators who work tirelessly to feed kids. 

This is why we are thrilled to announce that Dayle Hayes, MS, RD, will be our keynote speaker for the 10th Annual Child Hunger Conference. Dayle is an award winning author, speaker, registered dietitian, champion for #SchoolMeals4Success and #RealSchoolFood, and a passionate advocate for school meals and the folks that make these programs possible.

Below is an excerpt from Dayle’s blog, School Meals that Rock. If you want to meet Dayle in person or learn more about how to champion school food and prevent child hunger in your community, please join us at the Child Hunger Prevention conference on February 3, 2017. Registration is now open!

School Meals That Rock: Nine tips for supporting school meals

By Dayle Hayes, MS, RD

Here are nine effective ways to support the hard-working people who are reshaping local and national food systems, teaching kids about where food comes from and feeding millions of hungry children their best meals of the day.

#1: Share photos of #RealSchoolFood. Staged, stock and decades-old examples of school food does a serious disservice to the dedicated chefs and cooks, who offer gorgeous cafeteria lines, produce bars and grab-n-go options to students. Need help finding photos? We’ve got your back with thousands of photos on Facebook and Pinterest, like the gorgeous salads pictured above from Portland Public Schools. Tray Talk also features #RealSchoolFood photos from hundreds of districts.

#2: Please move on from ‘ketchup is a vegetable.’ This was a stupid proposal in 1981, which never made it into an official regulation. Please research the details of the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act of 2010. There are specific requirements for five different vegetable sub-groups, including Red-Orange for every school lunch served in Oregon and around the country.

#3: Check out the research comparing school lunch to lunches brought from home. Studies from Baylor (TX), Tufts (MA) and Virginia Tech (VA) confirm that lunches brought from home rarely meet the tough nutrition standards now required in all USDA school meal programs. Many home lunches contained sugary drinks that cannot be sold in schools.

A Tufts study published Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showed lunches brought from home had lots of packaged food and sugary drinks.

#4: Dig deeper into food waste in schools and advocate for change. Kids throw away perfectly packed organic sandwiches  and bento box baby bananas with cute notes written on them—just like they throw away school lunch items. Two of the most effective solutions to food waste in cafeterias work for both school lunches and lunches brought from home: Recess Before Lunch and Longer Lunch Periods.

USDA Analysis of Food Waste Solutions in School

#5: School nutrition professionals frequently need support. School nutrition heroes have a tough balancing act with complex government regulations, limited budgets and limited input into school schedules that affect recess options and the length of lunch periods. Like you, they care deeply about feeding children well—and are trying to do the best they can with what they have. Maybe you can work together on a grant for a salad bar or school garden.

Deli Sandwich Line, Fowler Middle School, Tigard-Tualatin District

#6: Please talk WITH rather than AT school nutrition directors. Arrange a friendly meeting with your local nutrition director. Find out about their everyday challenges and what changes they would make if they could—maybe new equipment or more local foods. Find out how you can work together to do what’s best for kids. If you look for common ground, you are likely to find it. Believe every school should have a school garden? Get out there and help a school grow one.

Nestucca Valley Elementary School Garden, Food Corps project, Cloverdale

#7: Understand nutrition perfection is just not possible on $1.50-1.75 per meal. That’s how much the average school district has to spend directly on food. While meal prices and USDA reimbursement rates provide more money that also goes to pay for labor, equipment and overhead costs. If you want all organic, GMO-free, clean-label, local, scratch-cooked meals, you are going to have to help schools lobby local, state and federal decisions makers to provide more money for school meals. 2017 is very likely a critical year for child nutrition and childhood food insecurity. Congress needs to reauthorize funding for critical #SchoolMeals4Success programs that support healthy children, schools and communities, including School Breakfast Program, National School Lunch Program, WIC and Farm-to-School Program. Get involved and advocate!

#8: Please eat a #RealSchoolFood lunch. There are lots of delicious options, like these Grab-and-Go meals from Bethel Nutrition Services. If you need a recommendation for a Oregon school cafeteria near you, send me an email at [email protected].

Grab-and-Go Lunch Meals, Bethel Nutrition Services, Eugene

#9: Please consider the consequences of your criticisms. Be respectful and ditch blanket descriptions of school food like “hideous piles of indistinguishable vegetables” and “avoid like the plague.” When you use negative and judgmental language, it makes parents feel badly about letting their children eat at school, even if they can’t afford to pack a meal from home. It also makes dedicated school nutrition heroes feel like just giving up.

There are no "hideous piles" of veggies in Reynolds School District, Portland, Oregon. There are beautiful cups of eye-appealing produce for students to grab.

A special thank you to the Oregon Dairy and Nutrition Council for sponsoring Dayle Hayes to be our Keynote Speaker for Hunger-Free Oregon's 10th Annual Child Hunger Prevention Conference!