Articles and Information from GA Foods

Child Nutrition: How to Get the Students to Eat Healthy Meals

Posted by Joann Pierre, MS, RD, LDN on Oct 20, 2016 9:15:04 AM

school-lunch-2.jpgAccording to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity in children has more than doubled over the past three decades and quadrupled for adolescents. Data from the same source also indicates that more than 30 percent of children and adolescents were either over their ideal weight or obese as of 2012.

Healthy Child Nutrition
Since most children eat at least half of their meals at school, it is important for schools to offer nutritionally-balanced meals. The National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program are great opportunities for schools to provide students with healthier food options.

Let's Move!
First lady Michelle Obama launched the Let's Move! initiative to address the growing challenge of childhood obesity. The aim of the initiative is to instill healthy eating habits in children in their early years, which they will ideally carry for life. Providing healthier foods in schools has been one way of achieving this goal.

One of the major achievements of this initiative was to get the U.S. Department of Agriculture to release new rules in 2012 for school meals. These rules boosted the nutritional quality of the meals served and was the first major revision of school meal standards in more than 15 years. 

Learn more about the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act here.

Getting the Children to Make Healthy Food Choices
While the above achievements are steps in the right direction towards providing healthy food options in schools, the main challenge, and the ultimate triumph, will be getting children to actually eat healthier foods.

Those making decisions about school nutrition can do the following to nudge students towards putting healthy food on their trays:

Getting students involved
Healthy Schools Campaign (HSC), an organization that champions the cause of child nutrition, developed Cooking Up Change. This is a competition where high school culinary students are challenged to cook healthy and tasty school meals. Winners from across the country travel to Washington, D.C. for a national competition every year. In Washington, they get a chance to interact with political leaders and showcase their creations.

Getting involved in the HealthierUS School Challenge
Involvement is an important part of the Let's Move! initiative. It is a challenge that sets high standards for the quality of school food and urges participation in school food improvement programs. It also seeks to create opportunities for physical activity and for nutrition education. This national program has spurred schools to embrace these standards by adopting its activities. Schools that excel at it are recognized and awarded with monetary incentives. Since August of this year, 4,661 schools have been recognized as a HealthierUS School.

Setting up school salad bars
This is yet another initiative of the first lady's Let's Move! initiative where she challenged Americans to set up 6,000 salad bars in schools. The goal is to give kids a choice of healthy fresh fruits and vegetables everyday by encouraging them to have salad daily. The National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, Whole Foods Market, and the United Fresh Produce Association Foundation and Food Family Foundation all responded with a Let's Move! Salad Bars to Schools initiative.

Fruit and vegetable salads are a key part of healthy child nutrition and the salad bars have done a lot to encourage kids to make healthy food choices in schools. As of September 2016, $12,180,919 was raised and 4, 714 salad bars were made available.

Participating in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP)
This program is run by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service. Along with encouraging healthy child nutrition, this program was also started to combat childhood obesity. The program has worked very well to introduce school children to a wide variety of produce that they might otherwise never had available.

The program is administered in partnership with FNS and state agencies in both public and private sectors. The program also supports recommendations made by the Institute of Medicine to give school children healthier snack choices.

A Starting Point
There are several resources school nutrition professionals can use to encourage kids to choose healthy foods in schools. A good starting point would be to download, Keys to Excellence: Standards of Practice for Nutrition Integrityfrom the School Nutrition Association. Use this tool to review, evaluate and improve the quality of your school nutrition program and get the students in your school or community on the path to good health for life.

For more information, download our free book:

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Topics: School Lunch, School Breakfast, National School Lunch Program (NSLP)

Teens and Food Insecurity

Posted by Maureen Garner, MS, RD, LD on Oct 5, 2016 11:00:00 AM

teen_food_insecurity.pngFood insecurity in children is a significant problem in the United States. According to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates, 7.8 percent of American households with children were food insecure* in 2015 – a percentage that amounts to 3 million households that were unable to provide adequate, nutritious food for their children. Additionally, in 247,000 households, food security was characterized as very low, indicating periods of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.

Food insecurity is known to have detrimental effects on children of all ages. However, according to recent research, teens experience its effects quite differently than younger children. This research, done by the Urban Institute (a research organization that focuses on economic and social policy) and Feeding America (a nationwide network of food banks), examined the unique perspective and struggles of teens who face food insecurity in their homes. This was done via the creation of 20 focus groups made up of teens, ages 13 to 18, in 10 diverse communities. According to researchers, findings were similar across all of the focus groups, and many of them were rather disturbing. Among the most notable findings are:

Food Insecurity in Children: Teens Feel Responsible

Unlike younger children, teens in household experiencing food insecurity frequently feel obligated to help provide for themselves and others. While parents typically try to protect their teens from hunger, as well as those feelings of responsibility, teenagers commonly take an active role anyway. Often, that role includes depriving themselves to ensure that younger siblings have enough to eat, finding ways to bring food into the household, and/or working out ways to stretch family food supplies – eating with friends or relatives, for instance, or saving school lunches to bring home.

Learn more about the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act here.

Fear Of Being Stigmatized Deters Teens From Traditional Assistance Avenues

Teens are well aware that food insecurity in children is a widespread problem. Among teens who participated in this study, even those who did not experience food insecurity in their own homes were aware of neighbors or classmates who suffered from hunger on a regular basis. However, in spite of that awareness, teens from food-insecure families were found to work actively to hide the problem in their own homes due to a fear of being stigmatized. That fear led many teens to avoid traditional means of assistance, such as food pantries or free school meal programs, accepting help only from close friends or family in private. 

Some Teens Take Drastic Measures To Help Provide

Researchers found that the vast majority of teens who are determined to assist in providing for their families would prefer to provide that help via income from gainful employment. However, job opportunities for teenagers are very limited, particularly in communities with high poverty rates. Consequently, many teens resort to less conventional methods to bring money and/or food into the household. According to study authors, teens in 8 of the 10 communities involved in this research stated that young people engaged in criminal activity to provide for their families, including shoplifting, drug dealing and theft of items that could be sold for food money. Some teens discussed deliberately going to jail, as well as failing in school in order to be placed – and fed – in summer school. Teens in all 10 communities were aware of teens who resorted to prostitution, having sex in exchange for money to feed their families. Most of these incidents, according to researchers, consisted of exploitative relationships with older adults.

Effective Solutions are Needed

The picture that emerges from these findings illustrates the urgency of effective solutions in addressing food insecurity in children. Study authors stress the need for more research on the affects of food insecurity on teenagers in particular, an issue that has not yet received the attention it deserves.

Many school nutrition programs have had success in eliminating the stigma teens feel when receiving free and reduced school meals:

  • Universal School Breakfast combined with Breakfast in the Classroom - With this model, all students receive free breakfast. It is served in their first period classroom, so there are no barriers like needing to get to school early.
  • 2nd Chance Breakfast - Usually served after first period, individually-packed Grab n' Go meals are available on a cart in the hallways. If not utilizing Universal Free Breakfast, tablet-based point of service allows for a cashless system, charging agains student accounts or eligibilities. 
  • Healthy Meals Vending - These special vending machines are integrated into the school's point of service, allowing reimbursable meals to be charged against student accounts and eligibilities. Placing them in high traffic areas around the school provides easy access.
  • Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) - CEP is now an option throughout the U.S. Under CEP, a school district can offer all meals at no charge to all students, if 40 percent or more of the students are direct-certified for free meals.  CEP can be used district-wide or just in one school. 

While these options do not negate the problem of teen hunger, they do provide students with healthy meals without social stigma. More needs to be done to provide vulnerable teens with effective support and solutions they need to overcome the unique challenges they face in food-insecure households.

The Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act expired over a year ago. Congress still has not passed a reauthorization bill for programs that feed our hungry children and teens. For more information, click below.

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*Food insecurity is the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.

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Topics: Child Nutrition, School Lunch, School Breakfast, Food Insecurity, National School Lunch Program (NSLP)

Your Mom was Right - Breakfast Really is the Most Important Meal of the Day

Posted by Maureen Garner, MS, RD, LD on Apr 8, 2015 12:34:00 PM

School breakfast improves achievement scoresSS_Kid

A recent study conducted by David Frisvold, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Iowa, finds students who attend schools that participate in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's School Breakfast Program (SBP) have higher achievement scores in math, science, and reading than students in schools that don't participate. This is consistent with other studies about school breakfast. A brief prepared by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), summarizes the findings from research on school breakfast:

-  Skipping breakfast and experiencing hunger impair children’s ability to learn.
-  Eating breakfast at school helps improve children’s academic performance.
-  School breakfast improves student behavior and learning environments.
-  School breakfast can improve children’s nutrition and protect against obesity.

School breakfast participation is low

The School Breakfast Program is available to all schools, public or private.  Traditional SBP meals are served in the cafeteria, prior to school. However, only half of the kids eligible for free or reduced school lunches, actually participate in SBP. Experts agree that there is a stigma related to eating breakfast in the cafeteria, while the other students socialize.

One approach that is working well is free breakfast for all students, served in the classroom. According to FRAC, the benefits of breakfast in the classroom are:

-  Lowered tardiness and absenteeism rates
-  More fruit and dairy products consumed at breakfast
-  Increased sense of community
-  Increased participation in SBP

Serving breakfast in the classroom pays off

Some teachers push back on serving breakfast in the classroom as they feel it might impact instructional time. But educators that work in schools with breakfast in the classroom say it only takes about 15 minutes each morning. Many schools succeed by using grab-n-go shelf-stable breakfast items that the students take as they enter the classroom.  The teacher uses this time to take attendance, collect homework, or read school announcements. As a result, 76% of teachers see an improvement in alertness during morning lessons and they like knowing their students are energized and ready to learn. 

The time spent with breakfast in the classroom pays off later. Frisvold’s research found that the impact of SBP has on achievement scores is cumulative.  The longer the school participated in the SBP, the higher their achievement.  Math scores were 25% higher at participating schools during a students’ elementary school tenure than would be expected otherwise. Frisvold says, reading and science showed similar gains.  

Implementing breakfast in the classroom

Looking for help implementing breakfast in the classroom at your school?

Download a Teacher's Guide to Breakfast in the Classroom

Click here for more information on GA Foods’ shelf-stable breakfast meals, Breakfast Club.

Download free infographic, What's in the Bag?

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Topics: Child Nutrition, Shelf-Stable Breakfast, School Breakfast, School Achievement Scores, Breakfast in the Classroom, Resources for Teachers

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