Friday, August 22, 2014

School-Meal Nutrition Standards are Important to Address Hunger in New Mexico

In June of this year, we posted a piece in this blog linking to an article in The Economist about an emerging controversy about proposed changes to nutrition guidelines in the public schools.  In 2010, Congress passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which set higher nutritional standards for meals, based on recommendations from scientists. The changes were endorsed and supported at that time by the School Nutrition Association (SNA). Then the SNA apparently changed its stance. suggesting that the program had become expensive. The SNA sought temporary waivers to to the rules for any school-meals program that has been losing money for six months.

In the comments section of the blog post, Angela Haney of the SNA insisted that the change did not mean that fruits and vegetables would be taken entirely out of the equation, but would be made voluntary. "The rules state that each child has to have at least 3/4-1 Cup of fruit or vegetable on their tray even if the child has no intention of eating it," said Ms. Haney. "It is frightening to see how much food is going into the trash cans."
"We just want to go back to the old regulations where fruits and vegetables had to be offered but only those children who wanted to eat them had to take them," added Ms. Haney.  "In a world where so many people are starving it makes me sad that much food is in the trash every single school day."

But some believe it would be a big mistake to weaken the nutrition guidelines, especially since there is evidence that food waste is not as much of a problem. "Schools have been implementing the new [nutrition] guidelines incrementally since 2012, and according to the USDA, 90 percent of schools are meeting guidelines, meal participation, and school revenues are on the rise, kids are eating more fruits and vegetables, and food waste hasn’t increased," said Patty Keane, a registered dietitian in New Mexico, who works across the state supporting child nutrition policies and programs at the local, state and federal level.

'An apple a day'
In an piece written for Albuquerque's weekly newspaper The Alibi, Keane argues that the high rate of food insecurity and child hunger in New Mexico makes it especially important that the nutrition standards remain in place. Overall, 30 percent of New Mexico’s children are food insecure, ranging from 16 percent in Los Alamos County to 39 percent in Luna County, Keane points out.

"In the 2013-2014 school year, of the 345,000 New Mexican children enrolled in schools participating in the NSLP, 61 percent qualified for free lunch, and 10 percent for reduced-price lunch," said Keane. "All of these factors warrant strong nutrition programs that meet, or even exceed, current nutrition standards. The success of this hinges on not just the hard work and dedication of those in school foodservice, but also the support of school administrators, parents and community members, and most of all, students."

And it's true that kids will be kids and will tend to leave food on the plate. Keane suggests, however, that most school kids could actually like fruits and vegetables--and lower-sodium entrees--if given a chance. "Across the Unites States and in New Mexico, school foodservice directors and administrators have been highlighting the need to engage students in the process, marketing new foods to kids through tasting programs and creating venues for student input," said Keane.

She used a quote from an educator to highlight the need to stay the course on maintaining nutrition guidelines. “Just because kids don’t like math, doesn’t mean we stop teaching math.”

Read her full article in The Alibi entitled Stay the Course: Nutrition standards for kids should remain in place, despite challenges

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