Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon Thursday announced a series of grants and tools designed to help schools serve healthier meals and snacks – and help students select them – as they return from summer breaks.
The announcement includes $5.7 million in Team Nutrition grants to state agencies administering the National School Lunch and Child and Adult Care Food Programs, USDA said.
Several states will use the grants to increase the number of schools implementing Smarter Lunchroom strategies, which are methods for encouraging kids to choose healthy food.
USDA is also funding 2,500 toolkits to provide school districts with the resources they need to take advantage of research on Smarter Lunchroom strategies.
Dr. David Just, Professor of Behavioral Economics and Co-Director for the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics for Child Nutrition Programs, helped develop the Smarter Lunchroom strategies.
According to Just, the strategies help school districts lead students to selecting healthier options through simple changes that are inexpensive to implement and maintain. Some of the changes can include placing fruits and vegetables in more attractive, easy-to-access displays.
For example, Just said, fruit displayed prominently near the cash register can increase fruit consumption by 102%.
"Placing white milk in front of the chocolate milk can increase white milk sales by as much as 26%," Just explained during a conference call. "These simple techniques are now employed by as much as 10% of schools nationwide."
Helping schools implement the techniques can also decrease food waste, Just said, to pre-guideline levels. In addition, changing the names of foods to give them a bit more pizazz, like "big bad bean burrito," rather than "burrito," has been shown to be effective.
Schools are also adhering to new "Smart Snacks" rules released last year by using an online calculator to determine snack products' eligibility.
Though Angela Stark, a middle school teacher and National Healthy Schools Program ambassador from Lexington, Ky., said the changes initially resulted in a profit loss for the school on its after-school snack shop, students are beginning to come around to healthier options.
"We were about 30% below on our profit margin that first three months," Stark said, but profit loss dropped significantly later on as students became familiar with the new snacks.
"Kids were walking around with bananas and their Chex Mix and water," she said. "It's been a great thing for us."
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In addition to the grants, USDA also announced it would re-launch the HealthierUS School Challenge, a voluntary program which provides financial awards to schools that choose to take steps to encourage kids to make healthy choices and be more physically active.
All schools participating in the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program have the option to participate in HUSSC, USDA said. Schools earning HUSSC designation receive a financial award, ranging from $500 to $2,000, based on the level of achievement.
"We're committed to supporting schools who want to ensure students head back to a healthier school environment this fall," Concannon said, urging parents, teachers and officials to rally behind the new requirements by supporting Smarter Lunchroom strategies.
"USDA is proud to support the Smarter Lunchroom movement that provides schools with practical, evidence-based tools that they can use to help their students have a healthier school day," Concannon said.
News source: USDA