Changing the National School Lunch Program to serve more healthy foods to kids – especially locally grown, fresh foods – is no easy task.
The program is tied up in supporting the nation's agricultural producers – so it's not just a matter of deciding what's most nutritious for kids and getting it to schools.
The needs of producers have a big effect on the types and amounts of foods that schools (and, thus, kids) get. The federal government spends about $1 billion buying surplus commodities for school lunches – with two-thirds going to meat and dairy and a little over a quarter going to vegetables and fruits that are mostly canned or frozen.
About 90 percent of all beef served in schools is USDA commodity beef, mostly 40-pound boxes of ground beef. Getting more whole grains, more low-fat and nonfat dairy products, and more fruits and vegetables into school lunches is an uphill battle.
So it is heartening to see that some school districts and communities are taking on the task with enthusiasm – and a mind-set to overcome obstacles.
California should have big advantages in this, with its year-round growing season and the ability to create menus around what's seasonally available. Getting local, fresh vegetables and fruits to Minnesota schools in the winter might be tougher.
The Sacramento region, surrounded by rich farmlands and premier farmers markets, should be a national leader in getting local, fresh foods into school cafeterias.
The nation's first farm-to-school effort was in Santa Monica. Davis, too, has been a pioneer. The Davis Joint Unified School District in 2009-10 bought 49 percent of its produce within a 300-mile radius, tapping more than 60 local farmers. That community's voter-supported parcel tax helps.
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