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Healthy School Meals

Grant Recipients


Wellness Policy

Vending Law


Healthy School Meals

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.

  • Students who eat school meals are more likely to be a healthy weight (Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, August 2003)
  • Children tend to gain more weight in the summer than when they are in school.  The American Journal of Public Health 2007, stated “it appears that schools are healthier than most children’s non-school environments”.
  • USDA studies have shown that National School Lunch Program participants are more likely than non-participants to consume vegetables, milk and milk products, and meat and other protein-rich foods, both at lunch and over a 24 hour period.  These school meal participants also consume less soda and/or fruit drinks.

The meals offered by NETCO schools are required to meet science-based and federal nutrition standards which include:

  • No more than 30% of calories from fat and less than 10% from saturated fat
  • Meals must provide 1/3 of the Recommended Dietary Allowances for protein, vitamins A and C, iron and calcium
  • Age appropriate portion sizes

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.

Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA)

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 Act implements nutrition changes for school meals based on the Institute of Medicine (IOM) research and recommendations.  Changes will be phased in over several years. NETCO systems are working to meet the requirements of these regulations which include calorie limits, minimum and maximum servings of grains and proteins, and sub-groupings of dark green, red/orange, starchy, and other vegetables. NETCO Schools were in compliance with many of the requirements even before the deadlines based on their proactive work to include use of low fat and fat free flavored and unflavored milk, many whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables secured through USDA and DOD monies and by seeking products with zero trans fats, reduced fats, and reduced sodium levels.

HealthierUS School Challenge Award Schools--Recognizing Excellence in Nutrition and Physical Activity

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.
NETCO is proud to announce the following schools have achieved this award:

    • Greeneville City     Tusculum View Elementary     Bronze Award
    • Johnson City          North Side Elementary            Gold Award
    •                                Cherokee Elementary             Silver Award
    •                                South Side Elementary           Silver Award
    •                                Woodland Elementary             Silvery Award
    •                                Lake Ridge Elementary           Bronze Award
    •                                Towne Acres Elementary        Bronze Award

    Reduced Sodium Levels:

    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.

     Flavored Milk:

    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.

    High Fructose Corn Syrup:

    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”.

    Organic Foods:

    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.


    Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Grant Recipients

    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.

    Bristol City Central/Fairmount $21,000
    Hawkins County Mooresburg Elementary $11,700
      Joseph Rogers Primary $18,700
      Keplar Elementary $5,350
    Johnson City Mountain View Elementary $28,800
      North Side Elementary $17,800
    Sullivan County Valley Pike Elementary $7,950

        Food Family Farming Foundation---Healthy Breakfast 4 Kids Grant:

    Roan Creek Elementary in Johnson County was the recipient of a $2500 grant in 2012. The school agrees to provide Universal free breakfast in the classroom to all students.  The grant helps purchase equipment-smallwares and supplies to use in programming. 



    Wellness Policy

    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.


    Vending Law

    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.


    Nutritional Guidelines

    These standards are developed for foods and beverages sold or offered for sale during the school day in schools that include students in grades

    Pre-kindergarten through 8. These standards do not apply to foods served as a federally reimbursable meal to pupils. However, it is strongly recommended that schools meet these standards in federally reimbursable meals.


    Summary of the Guidelines

    All foods and beverages sold starting 45 minutes before school to 30 minutes after school. The law includes all foods sold in:

    Vending Machines
    School Stores
    On-campus fund raising items like candy or bake sales
    Snack bar items
    A la carte items in the cafeteria not included in that day’s lunch


    Summary of Beverage Guidelines

    • Must be low calorie not to exceed 15 calories per serving.
    • Must be 8 oz or less for all beverages except water. Plain water is exempt.
    • Only fluid, reduced fat, low fat, or non-fat milk.
    • Only 100% fruit and vegetable juices.


    Summary of Nutritional Guidelines for Foods

    • Maximum calories from Fat—35% ( Nuts, seeds, and nut butters are excluded)
    • Maximum calories from Saturated Fat—10%
    • Maximum Sugar by weight—35% ( Fresh, dried, or frozen fruits are excluded)
    • Maximum Sodium—230 mg per serving


    Summary of Portion Guidelines

    • 1.25 oz or less
      Chips, crackers, popcorn, cereal, trail mix, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, or jerky
    • 1 oz. or less
      Pure cheese with 3.5 grams of fat or less
    • 2 oz. or less
      Cereal bars, granola bars, pastries, muffins, doughnuts, bagels
    • 4 fluid oz or less
      Ice cream and frozen desserts
    • 8 oz. or less
      Non-frozen yogurt
    • Fruits and non-fried vegetables are exempt from portion size limits.



    • Schools serving pre-kindergarten through grade 5, shall implement these rules no later than one year after the effective date of the rules.
    • Schools serving grades 6,7, or 8 shall implement at least 50% of the nutritional quality stanards set forth above no later than one year after the effective date of these rules and shall implement all of the nutritional quality standards within the following year. Schools that serve grades 6,7, and 8 and also serve higher grade levels must meet the standards.

    As a group, NETCO will structure its food procurement and product descriptions to be in compliance with this law beginning in 2006. The individual NETCO systems will be responsible for the actual interpretation, implementation, and specific enforcement at each individual school nutrition and school site.


    For further information about NETCO membership, contact Trish Holt at pgholt@epbfi.com