Schools Serving, Kids Eating Healthier School Meals

Kids are now eating healthier breakfasts, lunches and snacks at school thanks to the bipartisan Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010, which made the first meaningful improvements to the nutrition of foods and beverages served in cafeterias and sold in vending machines in 30 years. More than 96 percent of schools report that they are successfully meeting the updated nutrition standards by serving meals with more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; lean protein and low-fat dairy; and less sugar, sodium, and fat.

A local farmer delivers potatoes on a weekly basis. The kids love all the different ways we have been preparing them. Using fresh, local potatoes instead of instant potatoes in our recipes has helped us meet the sodium requirements for the new meal pattern.

Delta/Greely School District, AK

As a result, students are eating more fruits and vegetables, school lunch revenue is up to a total of $450 million, and participation has increased in many areas of the country.  In addition, nearly 70 percent of Americans believe school meals are excellent or good, compared to just 26 percent in 2010 before the updated school nutrition standards were implemented.  The percentage is even higher among parents.

Farm to School Programs Help Schools Meet Updated Nutrition Standards

Sixty-six percent of respondents with farm to school programs reported at least one of the following positive benefits as a result of participating in farm to school activities:

Offering a wide variety of locally grown apples has reduced plate waste in the cafeteria.

Fennville Public Schools, MI

Healthy Habits Take Root

In addition to serving local food, farm to school programs often include food, agriculture, and nutrition education that emphasizes hands-on experiential activities, such as school gardens, field trips to local farms, and cooking classes. For example, students might dissect vegetables in science class, run farm stands using school garden produce to learn business skills, or practice data visualization techniques using plant growth measurements. All these activities contribute to an integrated approach to learning centered on food, agriculture, and nutrition, which independent research and testimony from teacher and school officials indicate can improve student’s formation of healthy habits and increase the likelihood that they will make healthy choices. Recent studies published in Childhood Obesity and Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior reiterate the USDA Farm to School Census findings, indicating that strong farm to school programs can positively impact consumption of fruits and vegetables, leading to reductions in plate waste.

USDA Supports Success

Farm to school programs are one of many tools and resources USDA offers to help schools successfully serve healthier meals. For example, USDA offers a program called Team Up for School Nutrition Success that allows schools to pair up and learn best practices from schools that are already successfully serving healthier meals. The program has provided training for more than 3,500 individuals. Through its Farm to School Grant Program USDA offers grants to help schools and other eligible entities establish or expand farm to school programs. A USDA report shows that the grants alone have helped at least 12,300 schools improve nutritious meal options made with local ingredients for 6.9 million students, while expanding market opportunities for family farmers and ranchers in their communities.

Many schools have also successfully connected local products in their cafeterias with nutrition education in the classroom by using USDA Team Nutrition resources. Download nutrition education curricula, materials and resources here.

Community Engagement: A Powerful Farm to School Ingredient

Thirty-eight percent of school districts with farm to school programs indicate they enjoy greater community support for school meals. Gaining buy- in and support from parents, caregivers and the community at large is critical to helping kids make healthier food choices. Farm to school activities strengthen community connections through a variety of ways.