Dr. Katie Wilson, Deputy Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, USDA
Last week, children from more than a dozen schools and child care centers across the nation joined First Lady Michelle Obama for her final harvest of the White House garden. This event was more than just photo ops and shaking hands; kids got their hands dirty, harvesting the produce they later used to prepare a healthy meal. This was a neat experience for the students who participated, but it was also representative of the types of activities students are participating in all around the country. School gardens, nutritious snacks, farm to lunch tray meals, and nutrition education are all part of the healthier school environments students are experiencing each and every day.
Today kicks off National School Lunch Week 2016 and continues our month-long observance of Farm to School Month, and this year, there’s a lot to celebrate. More than 50 million children around the country attend schools that participate in USDA’s National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. Not only are their meals full of nutritious foods – with 99 percent of schools nationwide reporting that they are successfully meeting the updated nutrition standards – their entire learning environment fosters healthy habits now and throughout the rest of their lives. The Smart Snacks Final Rule aligned the standards for snacks offered to students during the school day with the nutrition standards that apply to lunch and breakfast. In addition, the recently published Local School Wellness Policy Final Rule ensures that any food and beverage marketing kids are exposed to during the school day must adhere to the Smart Snacks standards, sending a consistent, positive message to students about the importance of healthy eating.
We’re already seeing clear evidence of the progress made in school nutrition over the last number of years. Kids are eating significantly more fruits and vegetables: CDC research shows that nearly 80 percent of schools offer two or more vegetables at lunch, and according to a study by Harvard’s School of Public Health, consumption has increased by more than 16 percent! Also, more than 42,000 schools have farm to school initiatives, integrating local produce into their menus and teaching children more about where their food comes from.
Research shows that school-based programs that encourage healthy eating, physical activity, and positive attitudes toward body image are among a range of interventions that can help reduce childhood obesity. That’s why USDA is committed to providing schools and communities with the resources they need to help today’s children grow into tomorrow’s healthy leaders. Some of our newest resources include a Spanish language webinar for school nutrition professionals, and Team Nutrition’s MyPlate Guides to School Breakfast and School Lunch. We’re also continuing our “Team Up for School Nutrition Success” trainings, which provide in-person workshops for school nutrition professionals around the country and are seeing evidence of positive outcomes in states that have already participated in the training. Visit our website for additional resources, guidance, grant opportunities, trainings, and more.
Each and every day, school nutrition professionals strive to improve the health and wellness of our nation’s next generation. It is vital but often thankless work. This National School Lunch Week, I want to take a moment to give those men and women the recognition they deserve. Thank you for your hard work and dedication; you are the driving force of progress toward a healthier future, one child at a time.