Nutritionists call for more money, better breakfasts

By Chris Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

School kids should be given more information about the benefits of
eating well - and especially at breakfast time - according to the
Washington, DC-based School Nutrition Association (SNA).

More than 700 school nutrition professionals will call on Congress to require science-based, yet practical, uniform national school nutrition standards to govern the sale of all foods and beverages available during the school day when they meet next week for the annual SNA conference. But setting and policing such standards will require money, and the conference will also call on the federal government to set aside more funding to improve the quality of school meal programs across the country. "The federal government currently reimburses schools $2.47 for each balanced, healthy meal provided to children from families making 130 per cent of the poverty level or less. A latte costs more. This is not adequate to cover the cost of producing a school meal,"​ said Mary Hill, president of SNA. The costs of food, transportation, labor and benefits, training, equipment and indirect expenses are all increasing rapidly, and meal charges, as well as federal, state and local financial support for the child nutrition programs, have not kept pace, Hill claimed. Although the SNA has welcomed the improvements in nutrition standards in school that have begun to be seen since the drafting of the Farm Bill last year, it still has serious concerns that the gains that have been made will be lost again if the politicians do not put their hands in their pockets and increase funding for school meals. "The child nutrition programs are both under pressure to serve nutritious meals to more low-income children and being pinched by increased food, labor and milk costs,"​ Hill said. According to a study by the SNA last year, less than half of school districts that pledged to provide healthy food and beverages for sale in schools have managed to implement the policies, due in large to the high costs of healthy products, and to students being reluctant to accept them. Local wellness policies, required in every school that participates in the school lunch or school breakfast program - the large majority of US schools - were designed to address the problem of childhood obesity. They require that schools set nutrition standards for all foods sold in school, including in vending machines, a la carte lines, and school stores. And it is keeping control over the nutritional quality of food consumed outside the school lunch program - such as food available through school stores and fundraisers, food rewards given by teachers and food served at classroom party celebrations - that is proving hard. Foods available outside the school meals program are meant to include items such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nonfat or low-fat milk and dairy products, according to report commissioned by Congress in April last year. Among the other issues up for discussion at the SNA conference next week will be proposals to give the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to regulate and enforce the sale of food and beverages outside of the school cafeteria and to require that all a la carte and competitive food sales to be consistent with the US Dietary Guidelines, as is required for school meals. The SNA will also call on Congress to make the school meal pattern uniform across the country, arguing that children in all states and local districts need the same nutrients to grow and be healthy. It argues that the current lack of uniformity is also contributing to the increasing cost of the programs. The meeting of school nutritionists coincides with national school breakfast week, and the SNA has launched a new campaign to help encourage children to make a healthy start to the day. The 'Fuel Your Imagination' campaign will see school cafeterias nationwide transformed into rocket launch pads, and students will be encouraged to write and share their creative short stories about how nutritious school breakfasts fuel their days. The SNA's campaign will stress the benefits of a good breakfast, which it claims can provide 25 per cent of the recommended daily allowance of protein, calcium, iron, vitamins A and C and calories, in line with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It will also try to encourage parents to do their bit to help by underling research which it claims shows that children who eat breakfast at school score better in tests, have fewer health issues and behave better in class. National school breakfast week was launched by the SNA in 1989 to "raise awareness about the availability of breakfast for all students at school and to draw attention to the link between eating a good breakfast and cognitive growth".

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