School Lunch Investigation – Part 5

Last Friday I arrived promptly for my interview with Director of Nutrition, Alicia Neal, with your questions and my own. What I learned was extremely discouraging.

We began the conversation with an overview of the current system lunch item procurement. I learned that the North Thurston School District spends about $3 million a year. Of this $430,000 comes from the USDA as part of the commodities program. This money must be used to buy USDA commodities (bread, meat, etc) and processing it. Much of the remainder of the money is tied to their prime vendor, Food Services of America.

A sample of our conversation:
Q: How much money is allocated per student for meals?
A: $1.30 ($0.20 for milk, $0.65 for entree, the rest for fruits and vegetables)

Q: Is local produce used (as with Olympia School District)?
A: some, we are considerably larger than Olympia and could not get reliable quanitities. To give you an idea, we order 120 cases of romaine. Food Services of America uses quite a bit of local produce (they also use Pacific Coast Fruit).

Q:The meals are besed on USDA guidelines. Does this include sugar content (the chocolate milk served at breakfast and lunch has 22g of sugar)?
A: It is factored into the calories; that limits the sugar that is in the foods.

The ingredients in a slice of cheese toast

I inquired further into how changes might be made and how I could support this process. I was repeatedly told that 1) it was a funding issues, and 2) Ms. Neal had no interest in looking into healthier alternatives. She went so far as to tell me there is, “nothing I serve to these children that I wouldn’t serve to my own children.” Sadly, I do not find this comforting.

When I inquired as to whether more education was needed to encourage the kids to eat the fruits and vegetables that were available, I was told in several ways that my volunteer efforts were not wanted.

Ms. Neal seems to be content with the status quo despite the overwhelming evidence that children are becoming more ill every year. The one bright spot is that the district will no op out of the Healthy Lunch Program with the loophole that Congress has just created. Small steps.

I will continue to look for ways to improve nutrition in this an other arenas. I am looking for more information on what steps to take next. Some of my recent research has been with:

  • Pt. Defiance Elementary School in Tacoma – school garden program
  • Jamie Oliver Food Revolution
  • Moms Across America
  • Center for Science for Public Interest

For the moment, I am going to embrace the beginning of summer with my children and make happy, healthy memories.


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