CNN recently reported that the #1 meal served to children in U.S. schools is chicken fingers and French fries. The report goes on to note that a 2009 study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that 94 percent of school lunches failed to meet the U.S. Agricultural Department's regulatory standards. None of the schools met the sodium benchmarks and only one in five served lunches that met the total fat standards. A similar study found that children who participated in the National School Lunch Program were more likely to gain weight than other children.
The news isn't all bad. A growing number of schools have radically transformed their meal service to include healthier fare. Popular wisdom held that if kids weren't offered the usual array of empty-calorie foods -- soda, fries, snack cakes, corn dogs, and the like – they wouldn't buy lunch, school cafeterias would lose money, and the gap in federal funding would grow ever wider. But when school cafeterias across the country began selling freshly made sandwiches, salads, soups, and healthy snack foods students responded by purchasing school lunch more often.
As part of its mission to include sustainable, environmentally friendly, and holistic methods in their school curriculum, The Sustainability Academy at Lawrence Barnes in Burlington, Vermont committed to such a plan. In partnership with the Burlington School Food Project, the public elementary magnet school not only serves breakfast, lunch, and a fresh fruit and vegetable snack to all 200 Sustainability Academy students each day, but also an evening meal to all children who participate in the school’s after-school program.
Not only does the quality and diversity of food served give every child the nutrition they need to learn and live well, but the connections between the cafeteria, the community, and the curriculum allow students to learn about systems and cycles in a meaningful way as well as make informed and healthy choices for themselves, and in many cases for their families and support a vibrant local food system. The lunches are sourced locally which, in turn, help small farmers and businesses in the community.