Tag Archives: school lunches

Too many American schools are still flunking lunch!

This summer the City of Worcester ran a kick-ass summer lunch/snack program for low-income/hungry kids at our parks – the USDA’s national Summer Food Service Program! This blue bus (pictured above) could be seen rolling down our city streets, even making stops at our branch libraries! … School’s begun! Hola, Ms. Lunch Lady! Unlike lots of school districts, the Worcester Public Schools work to incorporate fresh veggies and fruits into students’ meals – at every grade level! AND EVERY STUDENT CAN GET A FREE LUNCH! Go, WPS, go!!! – Rosalie T.

By Heather Moore

I don’t care what kids say — the school lunch lady is not trying to kill them. The federal government is. Well, I have my suspicions, at least. Many of the meals served as part of the National School Lunch Program are high in fat and cholesterol and contain considerably more sodium than fiber. They’re a heart attack in the making. I wonder if that’s why the American Heart Association has warned us that atherosclerosis – hardening of the arteries — begins in childhood and progresses into adulthood, at which point it can lead to coronary heart disease.

Most American schools serve the same artery-clogging meals that were served when I was a student, and frozen meals still had to be baked in the oven. How can we expect students to take a health teacher’s “healthy eating tips” seriously when their school cafeteria is serving unhealthy foods?

Salisbury steak, pepperoni pizza and chicken nuggets need to go the way of film projectors and hand-crank pencil sharpeners. And fast-food corporations should also be expelled from schools — or at least suspended until they serve more plant-based meals.

As Dr. Neal Barnard, the president of the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, says, “Fresh produce, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds are nutritional powerhouses that study after study has shown to be quite literally lifesaving .… [D]iets high in animal protein are associated with a fourfold increase in the chance of dying from cancer or diabetes — making heavy meat and dairy consumption just as dangerous as smoking.”

Responsible parents teach their children not to smoke because cigarettes cause cancer and other health problems. For the same reason, they should make sure their kids don’t get hooked on hamburgers and other unhealthy foods. Let’s put more emphasis on teaching children to eat vegan meals — at school and at home. Kids will gladly eat plant-based meals, such as pasta, veggie burgers and black bean chili, if they’re delicious as well as nutritious.

Knowing this, the Coalition for Healthy School Food created the Cool School Food program to develop, test and implement plant-based meals in school cafeterias. The program — which helped two public schools in New York implement the first entirely plant-based school menus in the U.S. — aims to make it fun and exciting for young people to try new foods and learn about their health benefits.

Food Is Elementary, another school program that was recently featured in VegNews magazine, is also working to introduce children to plant-based foods, which the kids prepare and eat as part of a curriculum established by the founder of the Food Studies Institute, a New York-based nonprofit that helps school cafeterias incorporate low-fat, high-fiber foods into their menus.

We need more programs like these. Students are fed up with the unappetizing, inhumane and potentially disease-promoting fare that passes as lunch in many school cafeterias. Last year, students at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Chicago boycotted school lunch in an attempt to persuade officials to serve healthier meals, including more fresh fruit and vegetables.

That’s hardly an unreasonable request. The school cafeteria is supposed to be a source of nourishment, not disease. This year’s National School Lunch Week, which will be observed in October, aims to remind “parents, students and school officials that a healthy lunch helps students power through the day!”

But how can we expect kids to make it through the day — and learn compassion and empathy — if they’re eating unhealthy animal-based foods? We need to teach children that “v” is for vegan and serve them healthy, tasty, cruelty-free plant-based foods.

October is Farm to School Month!

F2S month


Here are some great ways to celebrate Farm to School Month:

Host a Taste Test

Broaden your students’ experiences and introduce new, locally grown and seasonally available foods.

Taste tests are a great time to use your Harvest of the Month materials including trading cards and “I tried it!” stickers. If you need to order materials, you can do so on the Harvest of the Month page.

Celebrate Food Day

This year Food Day is on Saturday, October 24, so Friday, October 23 is a good day to hold an event in your school. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is challenging schools to “eat real” and offer a locally sourced meal. Mass. Farm to School is here to help make that happen–please contact us if we can help!

Participate in Apple Crunch!


On or around Food Day millions of people will crunch into an apple in a unifying action to raise awareness about eating better diets for health and the environment, access and affordability of fruits and vegetables, and supporting local farmers.

Hundreds of thousands of students will crunch into an apple at lunch time on October 22!

Plan a Green Meal!

The Green Meal Initiative is created by Food Day, The Humane Society of the United States, Healthcare Without Harm, and Meatless Monday, to raise awareness about the importance of eating less meat and enjoying more whole-plant based foods as a way to become healthier and to help the environment.

During Food Day on October 24, millions of meals will be served to celebrate a green and healthy plant-strong diet. You are invited to join the Green Meal Initiative!


Join us at Farm to School Day at the State House


Join us!

Wednesday, May 6

Farm to School Day at the State House in Boston!

Talk with your elected officials about why farm to school is important to you, your school, and your community!

Farm to school advocates from around the state will spend the day meeting with legislators to raise the visibility of farm to school programs and to encourage support for state level policies to expand food education, local food in school meals, and school gardens in Massachusetts.

Come share your stories!

We will gather to meet one another at noon in the Members’ Lounge, attend a legislative briefing together and then fan out to attend meetings you have pre-scheduled with local elected officials.

Please call your Representatives and Senators’ offices to schedule meetings with the legislators and/or their staff any time before noon or after 1 pm.

Farm to School Day Agenda

12 pm: Meet in the Members’ Lounge on the 2nd floor

12:30 pm: Attend a legislative briefing with legislators and their staff to learn more about Farm to School and current Farm to School legislation

1 pm:  Fan out to meet with your elected officials to discuss farm to school efforts happening in your region and across the Commonwealth

Let us know you’re coming!

For more information and to RSVP, please contact Simca Horwitz or Lisa Damon at info@massfarmtoschool.org or call 413-253-3844.

We hope to see you on May 6!

Massachusetts Farm to School
34 Main St., Suite 10
Amherst, MA 01002

From Mass Farm to School …

Submit your Recipe for Farm to School Success!

Do you have a great idea for farm to school success?

We want to hear it!

Mass. Farm to School is excited to announce the Farm to School Recipe for Success contest. 

The contest is sponsored by Northeast Regional Steering Committee of the National Farm to School Network and is designed to find and share the most innovative projects and ideas in Northeast Farm to School programs. We’re not looking for cooking recipes, but for great activities, lessons, strategies and projects that improve food and farm education, school meal programs, farm to school connections and more.

Enter your recipe by March 2 for a chance at $500 in cash prizes, free registrations to the Northeast Farm to Institution Summit, and a chance to present and share your great work.

CLICK HERE for more information! 



The Farm to Institution Summit is a first-year conference that will bring together leaders from the Northeast who are working to get more local and regional food into schools, colleges, health care and other institutions.

Please join us — and up to 800 other farm to institution advocates — for three exciting days of learning, sharing, exploring and connecting.

The Farm to Institution Summit will be held at UMass Amherst in Amherst, Massachusetts on April 7-9, 2015. Learn more and register at www.farmtoinstitution.org/summit.

The Summit is hosted by Farm to Institution New England in collaboration with the National Farm to School Network, Health Care Without Harm, Farm to Institution New York State and other partners.

Scholarships available!  Scholarship applications will be accepted until March 2.

Please visit the conference website as they add more info about the programming — keynotes, workshop descriptions, and more: www.farmtoinstitution.org/summit.

Massachusetts Farm to School Conference at Holy Cross college! BE THERE!

Today is the last day to register at the early bird rate!

Join over 300 other enthusiastic farm to cafeteria advocates from the preschool, K-12, and college sectors for a full day of workshops, networking, cooking demonstrations, and fun.

We will have over 20 different workshops including:

Farm to School Policy and Advocacy

Funding Farm to School Programs

On Campus Farming

Farm to Preschool 101

Farm Based Education Initiatives – Urban and Rural Farm Field Trips

Sea to School: Incorporating Local Seafood in School Meals

The conference will also include Farm to Cafeteria Regional Networking Sessions so that you can connect with others in your community who are involved in farm to cafeteria activities. Learn from their best practices, share your own tips, and move forward together!

We will be holding a concurrent Buyer Tradeshow and Networking Session for Farmers and Distributors. This will be a great opportunity to make direct connections with farmers from your region and discuss local sourcing with distributors.

REGISTER HERE to secure your spot! Discounts are available for students and conference presenters.

We expect the conference to attract over 300 individuals from a variety of fields including school and college dining services, farmers, non-profit organization staff, state agency representatives, legislators, school educators and administrators.

Massachusetts Farm to School

34 Main Street, Suite 10

Amherst, MA 01002


And …


December 2014

Dear friends:

Nearly 365,000 Massachusetts schoolchildren rely on school meals for more than half of their daily calories.

Serving children healthy food that they like to eat is a simple and effective way to protect them from hunger, ward off health risks, and help them to do better in school, but all too often kids are denied the critical benefits that daily access to fresh fruit and vegetables can provide.

These same children often have limited exposure to where real food comes from, a connection that we know plays an important role in developing healthy eating habits.

That’s why Massachusetts Farm to School introduces school children across Massachusetts to local fruits and vegetables, and to the farmers who grow them.

Through this program, schoolchildren regularly enjoy fresh Massachusetts vegetables, fruits and dairy products as part of their school lunch.

Our approach is hands-on, personal and effective:

We connect school districts with farmers who provide affordably-priced local food;

We provide cafeteria cooks with healthy recipes that are easy to prepare and kid-tested;

Students are introduced to a wide range of local fruits and vegetables; and

New, life-long healthy eating habits are instilled.

Visits from Massachusetts farmers and special field trips to local farms spark curiosity, and can be transformative for those children who rarely see anything green and growing in their neighborhood.

Massachusetts Farm to School is already very successful, but the number of students who benefit is still small. Hundreds of thousands of children across the Commonwealth still need our help.

Your generous tax deductible gift can help Massachusetts Farm to School ensure that every child in our state has access to the fresh and healthy food they need to grow and thrive.



The Mass. Farm to School Team

P.S. Your support today will help students across the Commonwealth to have access to a well-balanced school lunch every day this school year – giving a chance for a brighter future.

Massachusetts Farm to School

34 Main Street, Suite 10

Amherst, MA 01002

The Worcester County Food Bank makes the holidays brighter

By Jean McMurray, executive director, Worcester County Food Bank

The holidays are upon us and, as always, the Worcester County Food Bank (WCFB) and its network of food pantries are grateful for the generous and warm-hearted people who support our efforts to help feed our neighbors in Worcester County during the month of November and throughout the year.  
Neighbors like the two young girls I noticed during a recent visit to one of WCFB’s partner agencies – a church food pantry.  It was a Saturday morning, a beautiful autumn day and the girls were riding their bikes around the neighborhood.  As they rode by, I heard one of the girls ask the other, what food did you get from the church?

The girl exclaimed that she got cupcakes and then added that she also got cereal, rice, and hamburger meat.  As they rode away, I could hear the first girl saying that’s what she got too.  In a matter of moments, I went from feeling glad about the assistance the girls and their families received to feeling sad that a food pantry was a part of their reality at such a young age.

And yet it is a reality for a lot of children and families.  Research by Feeding America, the national network of food banks, suggests that for the majority of households seeking help, pantries are now a part of a household’s long-term strategy to supplement monthly shortfalls in food.

The girls I overheard that day are some of the 35,000 children in 39,000 households in Worcester County – 12% of all households – who do not always know where their next meal is coming from and who turn to WCFB’s network of food pantries and community meal programs for help.  This year, WCFB distributed 5.4 million pounds of food to its network; enough food for approximately 87,000 meals a week.  Individuals and families in need of food can visit WCFB’s website, www.foodbank.org and use the agency locator to find a range of food and nutrition assistance programs.  

The WCFB’s efforts go beyond the distribution of donated food because our mission is to engage, educate, and lead Worcester County in creating a hunger-free community.  We believe that food is a fundamental right of all people and that hunger is an issue of social justice. WCFB is a leading advocate for federal nutrition programs that promote access to healthy food such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps.  For children, we specifically advocate for healthy food and nutritious meals through school breakfast and lunch programs and the summer food service program.   These solutions are systemic and sustainable and they support children and their families in being more food secure and healthy.  

Worcester is a leader in these programs under the guidance of Donna Lombardi, Director of Child Nutrition for the Worcester Public School District.  Worcester families and their children are fortunate to have a strong advocate in Ms. Lombardi and her child nutrition staff who contribute to the educational success of the whole child by addressing their nutritional needs.  They lead a collective effort that includes school administrators, teachers, custodians, and allied organizations such as WCFB and the Worcester Food & Active Living Policy Council in supporting child nutrition programs, such as breakfast in the classroom.

This collaboration has a strong funding partner in the Eos Foundation, a private philanthropic foundation, which has pledged a 10-year commitment to support universal free breakfast in the classroom in income eligible schools across Massachusetts.  In May 2014, the Eos Foundation recognized Ms. Lombardi and Worcester Public Schools with a Healthy Start Leadership Award for reaching 80% or higher student participation in school breakfast programs at 18 schools for the 2013-2014 school year – more than any other school district in the Commonwealth.  The award was accompanied by a $10,000 grant, which has been used to incorporate locally grown fruits and vegetables into the school breakfast program.
And when summer vacation comes around, the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) strives to ensure that children who depend on school breakfast and lunch during the school year still have access to free, nutritious meals and snacks during the summer when school is out. 

Children need consistent nourishment during the summer so their minds and bodies continue to grow and thrive in healthy ways and they return to school in the fall ready to learn.  

However, in Massachusetts, only one in five low-income children who ate a school lunch during the regular 2012-2013 school year was reached by SFSP, according to the Food Research and Action Center.  So WCFB and Worcester Public Schools teamed up and took SFSP on the road, delivering meals to kids in places where they gather to enjoy summer activities.  Our goal was simple: deliver good food and fun in the sun.

With support from the Our Family Foundation by Stop & Shop New England, WCFB purchased a refrigerated truck and donated it to the Worcester Public Schools.  In the summer of 2013, Worcester Public Schools delivered 4,100 to kids at the Bennett Field swimming pool and the Dennis F. Shine Memorial swimming pool.  In 2014, with a second truck funded by Our Family Foundation and donated by WCFB, the city’s five library sites were added to the delivery schedule and the number of meals provided for kids swelled to more than 13,000.  Ms. Lombardi attributed the increase in participation to a couple of factors – meals being served Monday through Saturday and meals that tasted good and were fun to eat such as fresh produce and yogurt parfaits.  

Another critical resource for families with children is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.  This program, also known as WIC, provides nutritious foods, nutrition education, and access to health care to low-income pregnant women, new mothers, infants, and children up to age 5.  
Child nutrition programs like school meals, summer meals, WIC, and others touch millions of children each day in the United States, and improve educational achievement, economic security, nutrition and health.  More information on these programs can be found at WCFB’s website, www.foodbank.org.

Every five years, Congress reviews a range of child nutrition programs through a reauthorization process and provides funding for these programs to ensure that low-income children have access to healthy and nutritious foods.  The current law, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, is set to expire on September 30, 2015.  Between now and then, the reauthorization process is an opportunity for everyone who cares about kids and their well-being to advocate for improvements to child nutrition and school meal programs so they better meet the needs of Worcester’s children and all our nation’s children. 

Priorities include continuing to support the momentum of school breakfast expansion in every state, strengthening the Summer Food Service Program so they can meet the needs of children and communities when school is out, and ensuring more children have a healthy start by improving early childhood nutrition programs.

More on school lunches …

Food for thought about school lunches

By Heather Moore

Each new school year, it seems, brings another school-lunch controversy. What will it be this year? Last year, it was “pink slime,” the bright pink ammonia-treated meat that was deemed a “high-risk product” by scientists and rejected by fast-food restaurants. Schools can still serve it, though. That’s not exactly surprising when you consider that schools are also permitted to serve irradiated meat and count pizza as a vegetable if it contains at least two tablespoons of tomato paste.

I wonder whether government officials have plans to classify cherry soda and strawberry-glazed donuts as fruit, too. Seriously, it’s not the “lunch ladies” that kids should be afraid of-it’s the mystery meats and other unappetizing, and potentially harmful, fare that passes as lunch in many school cafeterias.

Canned tuna remains on the menu in many schools, even though a 2012 Mercury Policy Project report indicates that it may contain unsafe mercury levels. Many other cafeteria staples, including the aforementioned mystery meats as well as chicken nuggets and cheese-pizza boats, are high in saturated fat and cholesterol.

Kids may like Gummy Boogers and candy bugs, but that doesn’t mean that schools should serve gross, unhealthy foods. They can best help keep our kids lean and healthy by serving them vegan meals and teaching them why it’s important to eat plant-based foods.

Vegan foods are cholesterol-free and generally low in saturated fat and calories. Many are packed with protein, fiber, complex carbohydrates and other essential nutrients. Children who eat plant-based foods rather than animal-derived ones are less likely to develop weight problems, diabetes and cancer. According to the American Heart Association, there is evidence that atherosclerosis-hardening of the arteries-begins in childhood and progresses into adulthood, at which point it leads to coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.

Although we can’t expect young children to understand the ABCs of heart disease or the complex role of cancer-fighting antioxidants, we can teach them that meat, eggs and dairy products contribute to serious health problems, while plant foods help prevent-and sometimes even reverse-them.

Unfortunately, according to Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, elementary-school students in the U.S. receive only about 3.4 hours of food education every year.

The good news is that some organizations are working to change this situation. The Sustainable Food Center in Austin, Texas, for example, has a farm-to-school program, Sprouting Healthy Kids, that helps school-lunch administrators obtain seasonal, locally grown produce. The center offers classroom lessons to introduce students to healthy food and an after-school gardening and cooking program. Katchkie Farm, an organic vegetable farm in Kinderhook, N.Y., also offers after-school programs to teach students how to cook simple plant-based meals.

In May, the Active Learning Elementary School in Queens, N.Y., became the first all-vegetarian school in the nation, and hundreds of public schools across the country now observe “Meatless Mondays.”

Several public schools, including those in Pinellas County, Fla.; Howard County, Md.; Knox County, Tenn.; Omaha, Neb.; and Atlanta, scored high marks on the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s 2012 School Lunch Report Card for regularly serving healthy plant-based dishes, such as vegetarian chili and pasta e fagioli.

Not every school in every state has healthful options, but parents can still help their kids develop a taste for wholesome foods by packing them tasty vegan lunches, featuring kid-friendly favorites, such as peanut, almond or cashew butter; apple slices or bananas; hummus; a thermos full of vegetable or faux-chicken noodle soup; or Tofurky and soy-cheese roll-ups. Then kids will be able to spend more time in the classroom-and on the playground-than at the doctor’s office.

USDA Joins Nation’s Communities to Feed Children during Summer Meal Gap

By Kevin Concannon, USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services

While the kids are exuberantly shouting, “School’s out!” many parents may be quietly worrying just how they’re going to feed their kids all summer long. I want to assure those moms, dads and caregivers that USDA has a program that can help.

All it takes is a toll free phone call to find a USDA Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) site where children in low-income areas can get a free meal during the summer months when schools are closed. The National Hunger Hotline (1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-866-348-6479) can give you locations of Summer Food Service Program sites open in your local area. Just provide your zip code and the Hotline operator will tell you if there is a site near where you live. This information is also available to Spanish speakers, 1-877-8-HAMBRE.

Summer meals are free for children 18 and under at open sites. In addition to a healthy meal, the program offers enjoyable learning activities held in a safe place where kids can play with friends and make new ones.

Summer meal sites are located at libraries, schools, family centers, youth drop-in centers, park and recreation centers, faith-based organizations, day camps and food banks, and many other locations where children come together during the summer months. Sites offer activities such as arts and crafts, drama, sports, computer training, music and reading that keep kids interested and coming back day after day. I’ve personally visited many sites and know that the kids have a great time and enjoy good meals.

We need to spread the word so that more families, parents and children know about this program and can find a site in their community. I encourage parents and sponsoring organizations to work with their schools to send Summer Food Service Program flyers and other outreach materials home with students before the end of school. Our Website, www.summerfood.usda.gov includes templates for creating these materials.

SFSP is vitally important to the millions of kids who eat school lunch and school breakfast during the school year but have no nutritious alterative in the summer. Only 3 million of the 22 million students who receive free or reduced price meals in the National School Lunch Program participate in a summer feeding program either through SFSP or through their school.

Summertime should not be a hungry time for these kids. SFSP fills that gap. Healthy food gives kids energy so they can enjoy all the summertime fun, but also maintains their nutrition so they feel well and do well once they’re back in school.

At USDA, we’re committed to ensuring that all students have access to “food that’s in while school is out.” We are here to help parents and communities make that a reality this summer.