Bad Times Spawn Good Eating Habits
Parents’ wallets may be getting lighter as a result of the economy, but students are still getting their fair share—of lunch, that is. According to a report recently released by the School Nutrition Association, about 425,000 more students nationwide are receiving free and reduced-price school lunches through the National School Lunch Program (NSL P), with about 100 out of 130 school nutrition directors surveyed reporting an increase in the number of free lunches served this year.
The researchers say that high unemployment rates and families’ proactive efforts to save money are the primary causes of the uptick. Moreover, the number of students paying full price for school lunches decreased by almost 50 percent—further evidence of the economic factor. And in most cases the food is actually healthful: In meals served under NSLP, no more than 30 percent of calories can come from fat, and no more than 10 percent can come from saturated fat. Moreover, the lunches provide one-third of the recommended dietary allowances of protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium and calories.
But some schools are finding it a little hard to swallow the costs of providing the meals.
The $2.57 reimbursement per free lunch and the free fruits and vegetables that most schools receive from the U.S. Department of Agriculture are not enough to produce a meal, school nutrition directors say, and school nutrition programs are experiencing a loss of at least $4.5 million per day based on 30 million lunches currently provided.
At Brownsville (Texas) Independent School District, an urban district with 86 percent of students on free and reducedprice meals, officials say the federal reimbursement is rising, but only by a minimal amount compared to the rising food and manufacturing costs they must incur to feed students. The district receives some help in the form of additional free foods supplied by the USDA, which can go up or down based on the number of students receiving the meals, says Ruben Pena, an administrator in the district’s food and nutrition department.
Some districts, like Hardin County (Ky.) Schools, are finding ways to cut corners through such practices as going back to serving milk in cartons, even though children are more likely to drink it from plastic bottles.
The Senate’s agriculture committee is preparing to re-examine a variety of school nutrition programs, many of which will expire next year.
Michigan School Takes Green to a Whole New Level
A student-led project is underway at Okemos High School in Okemos, Mich., that would have green advocates going ga-ga: through their holistic efforts, they strive to make it the first “carbon neutral school.”
Launched by a group of seniors in spring 2008, the project is based on an array of energy efficiency- and sustainability-related activities. Everything from “lights out” campaigns and carpooling programs to school energy consumption assessments and a student-constructed green-roofed recyling storage space have been implemented to reduce the school’s carbon footprint.
But knowing that becoming 100 percent carbon neutral may be a futile effort, students have also launched programs to reduce carbion dioxide emissions elsewhere. One such effort is a newly launched compact fluorescent drive in partnership with other local schools.