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)

Benefits of School Lunch

Posted by Joann Pierre, MS, RD, LDN on Oct 12, 2016 11:00:00 AM

Students-choosing-healthy-foodSince 1962, the U.S. has been celebrating National School Lunch Week in appreciation of the National School Lunch Program. This year's celebrations will run from October 10th to 14th with the theme 'Show Your Spirit'. The theme was chosen to remind students, parents, and school officials that a healthy school lunch is a big part of enabling children to get through the day. 

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) 

The NSLP is the largest federal child nutrition program. It provides school children with meals that are nutritious, balanced and free, or very low cost, every school day. The program was established in 1946 by President Harry Truman when he signed the National School Lunch Act.

National Farm-to School Month

October is also National Farm to School Month. First celebrated in 2011, this month is all about connecting schools and local farms with the aim of ensuring schools have a constant supply of healthy produce. The objective of the National Farm to School Network is also to create opportunities related to agriculture, health and nutrition education, as well as to support local and regional farmers.

Benefits of the NSLP

While celebrating National School Lunch Week, it is important to keep the benefits of the program in mind.

Nutritional benefits

The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) published a Child Nutrition Fact Sheet on the NSLP. They found that the program had a number of nutritional benefits to students.

One benefit is in regard to the quality of meals served in schools. In order for schools to be reimbursed for the meals they serve, schools must adhere to strict federal nutrition standards. The lunches must provide one-third, or more, of the recommended quantities of key nutrients. Reimbursable meals also do not exceed the limit of 30 percent fat, and have a maximum of 10 percent saturated fat.

Academic performance has also been shown to be enhanced by healthy school lunches. Research conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has established that kids who participate in the NSLP have healthier lunches than those who bring lunch from home or don't participate in the program for other reasons. 

Scientific research has also established that good nutrition can improve behavior, academic performance, and general cognitive development in growing children. Also, children who are well-nourished participate more in class and extra-curricular activities. 

Another benefit of the NSLP is that it provides an opportunity to teach children about healthy nutrition at an early age. This can positively impact their food choices for the rest of their lives.

Project graduation

The NSLP has been instrumental in keeping kids in school until they graduate. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) releases an annual report on education in the U.S. and other countries, and the NSLP has been an invaluable source of data to establish the number of students living in poverty. However, this is done with the awareness that it should not be confused with the actual number of overall population living in poverty.

For instance, a report filed on April 16, 2015, indicated that in 2012, just a little over half of the students in public schools were eligible for free or reduced-fee school lunches. This was in contrast to the actual poverty rate of public school students which stood at 22% in the same year.

The numbers 

In 2012, the NSLP fed over 31 million children every school day. All the students at schools participating in the program are eligible for regular price lunches but there are several ways that a child can become eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

Eligibility is determined by family income. Students from households with an income that is at or below 130 percent of the poverty income threshold are eligible for free lunch. Those from households with an income that is between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty threshold are eligible for reduced price lunch.

Lowering dropout rates with healthy meals

The NSLP has been instrumental in keeping children in school until they graduate. NCES statistics for the 2007-2008 school year indicated that there is a strong link between poverty and students dropping out. 

The Condition of Education Report published in 2010 indicated that high poverty secondary schools produced fewer students who attended four-year colleges; 28% of graduates from high-poverty schools completed four-year college courses compared to 52% of those who graduated from high schools with low poverty levels.

Reason to celebrate

One thing to celebrate during the 2016 National School Lunch Week is the higher number of elementary and high school students who stayed in school because they were ensured a filling and healthy lunch. 

You can find different tools and guides to celebrating National School Lunch Week on the School Nutrition Association website. A child who wants to go to school to develop their potential, should be able to do so without worrying about what they will be eating.

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Topics: Child Nutrition, School Lunch, 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)

School Lunch by the Numbers

Posted by Maureen Garner, MS, RD, LD on Feb 17, 2016 10:00:00 AM


Are you curious about your child's school lunch program?  Are the lunches nutritious? Are the lunches affordable? Are there a variety of foods offered? There are so many questions surrounding school lunch today, it's no wonder parents find themselves contemplating whether or not they should pack their child's lunch each day.

The National School Lunch Program

The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program that has been in existence since 1946, and serves 5 billion lunches to students annually. It is available in both public and private schools. The program provides nutritious meals for free or at a low-cost, for students every day.  

Nearly 100,000 schools/institutions serve school lunches to 30.5 million students each day, including:

- 19.8 million free lunches 
- 2.2 million reduced price (student pays $0.40) 
- 8.5 million full price 

Who Qualifies, Who Benefits

To qualify for free or reduced school lunches year-round, parents or guardians must fill out an application at the beginning of each school year, however, parents can fill out an application at any time throughout the year. Families with incomes at or below 130% of the poverty level are eligible for free school meals. For the current school year, the poverty level is $31,525 for a family of four. Those with incomes between 130% and 185% of the poverty level are eligible for reduced price meals. If your income is above 185% of the poverty level, your child will pay full price for school lunch. 

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (or HHFKA) passed in 2010, strengthened the nutritional standards for meals served under the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Summer Food Service Program, and more.  When the standards were implemented, many experts thought school lunch participation would be reduced. Some groups, like the School Nutrition Association, reported the standards were too strict to implement without increased costs and food waste.

However, more than 97 percent of schools are meeting these updated standards, and many schools are even adding fresh, local produce into their meals through farm-to-school initiatives (part of the Farm-to-School Grants program). The USDA also revised their commodity requirements when it comes to school meals and added more than 200 nutritious foods to support the new school meal programs.

Supporters of HHFKA say the new school lunch stardards are the first steps in improving America's diet. Not only are children able to avoid disease by maintaining a well-balanced diet each day, they are also learning how to eat healthy for life. A recent study found the improved nutrition standards resulted in students selecting foods that are higher in the nutrients they need for growth and development, and also showed no change in school lunch participation after the nutrition standards were implemented. 

School Lunch in 2016

This year, the reauthorization of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act has been delayed. The Senate Agriculture Committee passed the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act (CNR) in January, but it still needs to pass the full Senate and House. In this bill, schools will be given more time and flexibility to implement sodium and whole grain standards.  It also asks for the USDA to provide best practices on ways to reduce food waste through salad bars and sharing tables.

GA Foods supports healthy child nutrition programs and will continue to update you to potential changes to the law as it goes before the Senate and House for a vote. 

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Topics: Child Nutrition, School Lunch

Reauthorization of Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act Delayed by Congress

Posted by Maureen Garner, MS, RD, LD on Oct 13, 2015 9:32:42 AM

What is the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act?

According to the Food and Research Action Center (FRAC), more than 1 in 5 children live in households facing a constant struggle against hunger.  The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization (CNR) Act provides the federal funding for school meals and child nutrition programs. The purpose is to ensure low-income children have access to healthy and nutritious foods. Every five years, Congress reviews the funding levels and develops new policies to strengthen and improve the programs. The current law for CNR is the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010.  The deadline for reauthorizing CNR was September 30, 2015.  This leaves many wondering what will happen to the children served by the programs funded by this act.

Nutrition Standards for School Meals

HHFKA 2010 required USDA to implement nutrition standards based on the 2009 recommendations issued by the the Institute of Medicine (IOM). Prior to HHFKA, the healthy hunger free kids actnutrition standards and meal requirements for school meals were based on the 1995 Dietary Guidelines and the 1989 Recommended Dietary Allowances. IOM’s recommendations are in line with the latest Dietary Guidelines and Dietary Reference Intakes. Here is a summary of the nutrition standards for school breakfast and lunch:

  • Establishes new age/grade groups for menu planning that enables schools to provide age-appropriate meals.
  • Increases the amount and variety of fruits and vegetables offered to students.
  • Requires students to take at least half cup of fruits or vegetables for the meal to be reimbursable.
  • Requires all grains to be whole grain rich by SY2014/15.
  • Mandates fluid milk to be low-fat or fat-free.
  • Limits the total calories that can be offered in a meal with a minimum and maximum range for 5 day school week average.
  • Significantly reduces the amount of sodium allowed over a 10-year period.

Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act 2010 - Five Years Later

The USDA reports that HHFKA and other similar strategies have slowly reversed the childhood obesity trend and children have more energy to learn and grow, greater opportunity to thrive, and better overall health.  The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics emphasizes that HHFKA ensures the youngest, most vulnerable populations have access to the nutrition they need to grow into healthy adults. 

However, the School Nutrition Association (SNA) has a different viewpoint. SNA represents more than 55,000 school nutrition professionals that serve students and manage school meal programs. They believe “USDA’s regulations go too far, driving up costs and waste and causing many students to swap healthy school meals for less nutritious options.”

Current Status of Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act

The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry had scheduled a markup of a reauthorization bill for September 17. However, the committee chairman, Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) indefinitely delayed the markup, stating that he needed more time to finish writing legislation to reauthorize healthy meal requirements for schools. He said he is still negotiating parts of the bill with Democrats and waiting on the Congressional Budget Office to release cost estimates for the new provisions in the proposed legislation. 

Funding for CNR programs and provisions was extended with the continuing resolution that extended funding for the federal government until December 11, 2015. Senator Debby Stabenow (D-Mich), ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, indicated that a reauthorization bill will be completed by the end of the year.

GA Foods supports HHFKA and healthier meals for children. Through our partnerships with child nutrition programs funded by CNR, we are making a difference in the lives of children. Many school programs depend on us to provide them with meals that meet the nutrition standards, so they can focus on educating and nourishing young minds. GA Foods will continue to closely monitor the reauthorization of CNR and any potential changes to the law.

Download our free white paper, Reauthorization of Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act: Striking a Balance, for more background and information on HHFKA.

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Topics: Child Nutrition, School Lunch

Farm to School Programs: Healthy Kids and Healthy Economy

Posted by Maureen Garner, MS, RD, LD on Aug 18, 2015 1:04:48 PM

Farm_to_SchoolFarm-to-School Programs

With the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act, the National School Lunch Program requires a greater variety of vegetables be served throughout the school week. However, getting children to try vegetables has proven to be a challenge. As a result, many schools are implementing farm-to-school programs. The National Farm to School Program was authorized by Congress in 2004, with the intent to supply fresh, locally grown foods to schools. Children are more willing to try new foods if they interact with the grower.  Local farmers also benefit from financial opportunities by supplying schools and food distributors. 

Besides including locally grown foods on the school menu, farm-to-school activities can enhance classroom education through hands-on learning with school gardens and composting programs. Children learn the source of their food and how food choices affect their health, the environment, and their communities.  School gardens improve children’s attitudes towards produce and they are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables that they grow.

Blog_local_food_sidebarShortening the distance between the farmer and the school, helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and benefits our environment and wildlife. When food doesn’t have to travel so far, it also is less prone to chemical, physical, and biological hazards.

A successful farm-to-school program includes students, parents, farmers, school food service staff, teachers, community, etc. People like to hear about the story of their family, their operation and how they bring their products to market. Other farm-to-school activities can include nutrition education with cooking and tasting activities.

Buying Locally Grown for Families

Buying locally grown food for your family is also a great way to eat flavorful, healthy meals while supporting your local economy! 

The ability to talk with producers when purchasing food allows you to ask questions about pesticides, herbicides, growth hormones, animal treatment, fertilizers, and any other queries you may have about how your food was produced.
Plus, knowing your local farmers and food producers gives you a stronger sense of place, relationships, trust, and pride within your community.

To find local food for your family, visit

GA Foods' and Locally Produced Foods

GA Foods is committed to using locally grown and produced foods in all of the markets we serve. Our distributor works with local farmers to source produce.  We use a local dairy for our milk and a local bakery for our breads and rolls.

Buying locally supports Florida's economy and keeps local people employed.  To get an idea of the impact that child nutrition programs have on the local community and economy, watch this video. For information on our child nutrition offerings, click here.

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Topics: Child Nutrition, Healthy Lunch, School Lunch

Why We Love School Lunch (And You Should, Too!)

Posted by Maureen Garner, MS, RD, LD on Dec 17, 2014 8:35:00 AM

Bringing lunch from home

When my son was younger, he was a picky eater. He didn’t like to eat the school-prepared lunches…he always wanted to bring lunch from home. In our minds, I think we both thought his packed lunches would be like this:


But in reality, being a working mom with a busy family, his lunches looked more like this:


Some of you may think this lunch looks pretty healthy, after all, there is an apple in that picture!  But in reality, lunches brought from home are less nutritious than lunches purchased from schools.  

National School Lunch Program

The National School Lunch Program has been in place since 1946.  Congress created it after an investigation into the health of young men rejected in the World War II draft showed a connection between physical deficiencies and childhood malnutrition. Since then multiple studies have shown that children who participate in school dietary programs have superior nutritional intakes compared to those that do not participate.  Proper nutrition improves a child’s behavior and school performance.

In 2012, new nutrition standards were implemented by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for school meals. The new standards require school cafeterias to offer more fruit, vegetables and whole grains and to limit sodium, calories and unhealthy fats.  Grain-based desserts, like cookies, have been limited to twice a week and must be whole grain rich.  While there was some resistance from students on the healthier meals, studies have shown that students’ intake has improved with the new guidelines.

School meals that rock!

School foodservice directors have become creative in delivering a healthy school lunch menu that appeals to kids…I love the site,, because they showcase all of the healthy school lunches served in school cafeterias. You can check out actual school meal trays here, but below is an example from their site of a tray that meets the new USDA standards.  



Are school meals the healthiest option?

If you still aren’t sure that school meals are the healthiest option for your family, a new study from Virginia Tech University might change your mind.  The researchers compared school lunches with those children brought from home.  Here is what they found:

  • Calories, carbohydrates, fat, saturated fat, and sugar were higher in packed lunches.
  • Protein, fiber, vitamin A, and calcium where higher in school lunches.  (Sodium was also higher in school lunches. However, new sodium standards for school lunches are being phased in, so this is expected to improve.)
  • Packed lunches had more dessert items, savory snacks, and sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • School meals had more milk, fruits and vegetables.

Be a good example

If your children are like my son and resistant to eating lunch from the cafeteria, here are some tips from the USDA:

  • Join your child for lunch in the school cafeteria
  • Let your child see you eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • When your child gets home from school, ask them what he or she ate for lunch
  • Grocery shop with your child and talk about where foods come from
  • Offer new foods one at a time and always with something your child likes with that food.  Discuss how the food smells, tastes, and feels.

Childhood health and nutrition is important to GA Foods.  For more information on nutrition and children, read this blog post.

GA Foods Child Nutrition Programs

GA Foods offers nutrition programs for...

See How GA Foods is Making a Difference in Children's Lives


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Topics: Child Nutrition, Healthy Lunch, Lunch from Home, School Lunch

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