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Nutrition for Kids: National Grant Helps Improve School Lunches

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by Matt Weik

This topic is very close to home for me as I have children and I’m sure many of you do as well. If you look around, we are under attack by an obesity epidemic that unfortunately has made its way to our youth. Nutrition for kids seems to get pushed to the wayside. While we can control the things our children eat at home, school is a completely different story – unless you decide to make a packed lunch for your child every day to take with them. That being said, I just heard about a new program to help improve school lunches and I wanted to get it out there for you to digest as I think the idea behind it and its execution can help the health of today’s youth.

Who Wants $9M in Grant Money?

It seems like I’m not the only one noticing the health of our youth deteriorating while their weight and body fat levels are skyrocketing. Why is this? Well, there are many reasons – here are two of the biggest.

Kids Aren’t Engaging in Active Play

Let’s face it, today’s youth doesn’t even look up when someone is speaking to them. Rather, their face is buried in an electronic device of some sort. Be it a smartphone, tablet, laptop, computer game, or gaming system, our youth is more sedentary than ever. I remember as a kid never wanting to be in the house. The only time I’d head inside was to eat dinner. These days, parents need to lock kids out of the house just to allow them to get some fresh air and provide them with some natural vitamin D.

Kids Aren’t Eating a Well-Balanced Diet

Energy drinks, soda, candy… three things that kids these days live off of. Nutrition for kids simply was never really pushed. And it’s for that reason that we are seeing more and more overweight kids who are finding themselves with what should have been preventable illnesses. Now, I’m not saying eating healthy can eliminate illness but it can certainly cut down the chances of getting an illness such as diabetes and horrible bloodwork.

Now for the good news. The USDA has announced that they have put aside $9M for a three-year grant program called Get Schools Cooking (GSC). One problem that many schools face is the sheer number of students that stand in line each day to buy school lunches. Buying fresh food not only gets expensive but what happens if they produce too much food and have leftovers? They can’t exactly change the menu for the next day to use it up and the last thing they want to do is throw away perfectly good food and the money spent on it.

The director of the Whole Kids Foundation (who helps train food service staff at schools) mentioned, “What our kids eat at school matters. We understand that moving from processed food to scratch cooking takes a deep commitment and making that change has enormous benefits for students’ health, their achievement, and the environment.” Thanks to the Get Schools Cooking grant, since 2016 they have been able to make a difference in 12 states, reaching 187 schools.

It’s been shown that kids who eat unhealthy foods have a hard time staying focused throughout the school day as well as maintaining heightened mental performance. When you give kids school lunches that include a lot of sugar, it provides them with immediate energy and then a crash that will crush their mental performance for the rest of the day. Nutrition for kids, especially when it comes to school lunches, should be a main focus and priority. During the school year, schools and teachers see our kids more than we do. So, it only makes sense that we try to help make improvements to help our children grow (physically and mentally) and stay healthy.

Many schools find themselves purchasing frozen foods slammed with preservatives, canned fruit and vegetables, and bulk items where they can get a good deal. While I understand why they are doing this (to stretch their dollar), it’s not exactly the healthiest and best option as school lunches for the kids. The USDA is looking deeper at nutrition for kids and wants to help improve the quality of food they are consuming while at school.

With the Get Schools Cooking grant, schools can apply for the opportunity to receive up to $267,000 which can be used to purchase better quality food and ingredients, train the food service staff to prepare meals from scratch, and even acquire new equipment for the school kitchen.

In the past, those who have received grant money have been able to remove chicken nuggets and chicken patties and replace them with real food options that aren’t processed. They also mentioned that they won’t look to remove some of the common food items that kids love such as pizza and tacos, but will rather make them from scratch with real food ingredients to minimize the prepackaged products that they simply reheat and serve.

Do You Want Your Child’s School to Apply?

At the time of writing this article, enrollment is open for applicants. However, it will not stay open forever and will close in preparation for next years (2020 enrollment) applicants.

There’s no better time than right now to ensure nutrition for kids is at the forefront of the school’s mind and focus. It’s time we further advance school lunches and improve the quality and ingredients used.

If you are interested, here is the website you should send to the school district so they can: Apply Here.