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Over 600,000 low-income elementary students nationwide will be receiving fresh food in the 2011-2012 school year after the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced March 23 that it will be expanding the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. The program received a funding increase of $48 million—a nearly 40 percent jump from the previous year—for a total of $158 million in funding. The program, which was established in 2008, supports local farms while also promoting healthy eating habits to impoverished students.

Every weekday, millions of American schoolchildren throw away their half-eaten cafeteria lunches so that they can run outside to play. "We tell kids not to eat and swim right away. And yet here we are, telling them that the quicker they eat, the quicker they get to recess," says Greg Welk, director of clinical research at Iowa State University's Nutrition and Wellness Research Center.

According to Welk and a growing chorus of educators, poor eating habits, stomachaches and post-recess behavioral problems may be ascribed—at least in part—to a scheduling issue.

Spending an additional six cents on lunch may seem like a nominal burden. But multiply six cents by the 31 million children who receive school lunches daily and it’s a lot of extra fries as Washington faces reauthorizing the Child Nutrition Act this fall.

Serving meals and snacks at school is fraught with politics and pitfalls. While the battle rages in school cafeterias over menu choices, beverage sales, vending foods, and outright bans on what students can buy or even bring to school, there is some good news. More school districts are reducing the number of fried foods, increasing the levels of fruits and vegetables, and paying attention to fat, calories and the sugar content of the meals they serve.

Northern California native Jim Rowan is passionate about food. A self-taught chef, Rowan had his own catering business, cooked in resorts and hotels, and was a private chef before becoming culinary director at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. But in July 2008, Rowan made the switch from higher ed to K12. He is now the food service director at Astoria (Ore.) School District and Naselle-Grays River Valley (Wash.) School District, which use Chartwells as their food service provider.

If the schools in your district are like most in the United States, there is a good chance that today’s lunch features pizza, hot dogs, chicken nuggets or maybe hamburgers with processed cheese. Is serving these types of foods really in the best interest of our children’s health? Common sense says no, as do the statistics, which are startling.