School students eat about 17% of their meals each year in schools with the remainder eaten at home or in restaurants. Addressing the childhood obesity crisis will take a community-wide effort with a focus on promoting healthy diets at home, increasing children’s physical activity and reducing screen time. However, many studies have shown that school meals are a great move toward a healthier lifestyle.
The meals offered by NETCO schools are required to meet science-based and federal nutrition standards which include:
These meals include fresh fruits and vegetables, low fat milk, 100% juices, whole grain breads and cereals, and some locally sourced foods.
NETCO schools are constantly working to further improve the nutrition, taste, and variety of meals by monitoring the market and through student testing, product evaluation, and stringent procurement techniques. Many student-friendly foods like pizza, chicken nuggets, and fish portions are re-formulated to make them a healthier version of their retail counterparts with whole grain crust, lower fat cheese, and reduced fat breading. Preparation techniques usually avoid frying and reduce added fat and sodium. These items are also paired with fruits and vegetables and low fat dairy to meet the required nutrition standards noted above.
Nutrition standards and access to child nutrition programs are the focal points of the HHFKA. It authorizes funding and sets policy for the United States Department of Agriculture's core child nutrition programs: the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the School Breakfast Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Summer Food Service Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program. The Act also includes requirements for Pricing Equity of paid meals.
The HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC) is a voluntary certification initiative established by the USDA in 2004 to recognize those schools participating in the National School Lunch Program that have created healthier school environments through promotion of nutrition and physical activity. The application process requires an indepth look at the total school environment and culture. Submission of a detailed application includes menus that meet strict criteria for whole grains, fresh fruits, and dark green and red/orange vegetables.
Manufacturers are responding to requests to lower the sodium content of foods. NETCO has asked its vendors to research new methods and formulations to reduce sodium levels in foods made for schools. NETCO has added that request to its bids and has begun researching products with reduced sodium levels. Bid descriptions are beginning to be altered to list lowered sodium requirements as high quality, student friendly products become available for purchase.
NETCO Schools do serve chocolate, lowfat milk as a milk choice. According to the USDA, 70% of girls and 60% of boys ages 6-11 do not consume the recommended daily amount of calcium. Experts agree that to ensure intake of calcium, vitamin D, protein, and other nutrients important for growth and development, it is better for children and adolescents to drink flavored milk than to avoid milk altogether. Flavored milk delivers the same nutrient package as regular milk. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines state that small amounts of sugars added to nutrient-dense foods may enhance the taste thus improving nutrient intake without contributing excessive calories. NETCO believes this is the case with flavored milk.
NETCO has not banned high fructose corn syrup in its products. The American Medical Association recently concluded that HFCS “does not appear to contribute more to obesity than other caloric sweeteners”. The American Dietetic Association says that “HFCS is nutritionally equivalent to sucrose. Both sweeteners contain the same number of calories per gram (4) and consist of about equal parts of fructose and glucose. Once absorbed into the blood stream, the two sweeteners are indistinguishable”.
NETCO schools are not requiring organic foods. By law, food served through the school meals programs should be grown in the USA, subject to USDA inspections and standards. There is no conclusive scientific evidence that organic food is superior with regard to food safety or nutrition. While schools are focused on increasing the availability and variety of fruits and vegetables served, most organic items are more costly and do not fit into the cost parameters required to keep the programs operational and affordable to all students.
The grants are provided through the United States Department of Agriculture. Schools submitted applications to be considered and were selected based on factors such as staff commitment, efficient use of resources and innovative promotional efforts. Schools with the greatest percentage economically disadvantaged students were given the highest level of consideration.
The Fresh Fruits and Vegetables program aims to increase student consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. The grant will allow schools to provide approved fruits and vegetables as a snack at no charge to students during the school day. The fruits and vegetables must supplement those fruits and vegetables normally served during breakfast and lunch. The produce will be served at the teachers’ discretion each afternoon and must be fresh, not canned, frozen, dried, or vacuum packed. The program will introduce items that many children do not get to experience on a regular basis. Materials will be provided to classroom teachers to allow them to integrate the consumption of the products into curriculum through art, literature, math, and science.
Food Family Farming Foundation---Healthy Breakfast 4 Kids Grant:
Poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyles are more prevalent in children today than in the past two decades. The percentage of overweight children aged 6-11 years has more than doubled in the past twenty years. Among adolescents ages 12-19, the figure has more than tripled.
It is critical that children learn and adopt healthy behaviors while they are young, including establishing better eating habits. Tackling this issue at an early age helps young people develop good habits before they face health concerns.
In recognition of the declining nutritional intake and increasing obesity in children, Congress passed the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004. The Act requires by law, that no later than the first day of the school year 2006, each school district participating in the National School Lunch Program will adopt local school wellness policies that address healthy eating and physical activity.
The Act aims to improve children’s health by expanding the availability of nutritious meals and snacks to more children in schools while also promoting increased activity. The law places the responsibility of developing a wellness policy at the local level so the individual needs of each school district can be addressed.
School districts must set goals for nutrition education, physical activity and other school-based activities designed to promote student wellness. School districts must also establish nutrition standards for all foods that are available on each school campus during the school day, with the objective of promoting student health and reducing childhood obesity. School districts are required to measure the implementation of the wellness policy and to involve a broad group of individuals in its development.
NETCO systems will be working on their individual policies during 2005-06. Each system’s policy will be unique, however, the requirements of the policy will affect menus, food purchases, promotions, and other activities that involve the School Nutrition Programs and NETCO.
Poor diet and unhealthy portion sizes have been found to adversely influence the ability to learn and to decrease motivation and attentiveness. The state of Tennessee has one of the highest rates of pediatric obesity, one of the highest rates of childhood Type II diabetes, and one of the highest rates of heart disease in the United States.
In 2004, the Tennessee General Assembly passed Public Chapter 708, now
TC 49-6-2307. The bill requires the State Board of Education in consultation and cooperation with the Department of Education and the Department of Health to promulgate rules to establish minimum nutritional standards for individual food items sold or offered for sale to pupils during the school day.
For further information about NETCO membership, contact Trish Holt at firstname.lastname@example.org