When I was in elementary school, Wednesdays were beefaroni day. My pops and I called it "barfaroni," and we made sure to pack a lunch for me on Wedesdays. Not every kid was lucky enough to have a family like mine or can afford to pack a lunch even once a week. Millions of kids across the U.S. rely on the National School Lunch program for their mid-day meals during the school year. These lunches are usually heavy on the starch, salt, and mystery meat and lacking anything you might call "real food."
Did you know that federal funding only pays for about 82% of the cost of school meals? It's no wonder that our country's kids are eating the way they are! Without proper funding, schools can't afford to stop serving the barfaroni. Slow Food USA is looking to change all that with their Time for Lunch Campaign.
Every four or five years, the Child Nutrition Act, which governs the National School Lunch Program, comes up for renewal, and this is one of those years. Slow Food USA wants to send a message to Congress about getting real food into schools. Here's what they want:
- Invest in children’s health.
Give schools just one dollar more per day for each child’s lunch. Under the National School Lunch Program, the USDA reimburses schools for every meal served: $2.57 for a free lunch, $2.17 for a reduced-price lunch and 24 cents for a paid lunch. Since these reimbursements must also pay for labor, equipment and overhead costs, schools are left with only $1.00 to spend on food. How can schools be expected to feed our children and protect their health with only a dollar a day? It’s time to build a strong foundation for our children’s health by raising the reimbursement rate to $3.57.
- Protect against food that puts children at risk.
Establish strong standards for all food sold at school, including food from vending machines and school fast food. At most schools, children can buy junk food in vending machines, at on-campus stores and in the cafeteria as “a la carte” items. These overly processed, high-calorie “fast” foods sneak under the radar of federal nutrition standards. They undermine the National School Lunch Program’s investment in children’s health and allow food companies to profit from selling obesity. It’s time to take the first step towards making real food the standard by approving Rep. Woolsey’s and Sen. Harkin’s Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act of 2009.
- Teach children healthy habits that will last through life.
Fund grants for innovative Farm to School programs and school gardens. This spring, 30 fifth-graders joined Michelle Obama in planting a vegetable garden on the White House lawn. “What I found with my kids [is that] if they were involved in planting and picking it, they were much more curious to give it a try,” Mrs. Obama says. Every child deserves the opportunity to learn healthy eating habits at school. In 2004, a section was added to the Child Nutrition Act to provide schools with grants to cover one-time grants that enable them to purchase local foods and to teach lessons on healthy eating in kitchen and garden classrooms – but Congress never appropriated funds for it. This year, it’s time for Congress to guarantee $50 million of mandatory funding for Farm to School programs.
They're also asking for financial incentives to encourage schools to purchase local produce and that the newly expanded Americorps include jobs preparing and serving real food in school kitchens.
If you want to help get real food into schools, there are all sorts of ways to get involved!
Sign the Time for Lunch petition! Their goal is to get 20,000 signatures by September 7th. Your signature will help show Congress that this movement matters.
You can also attend or host an Eat In on September 7th. Across the country, slow food groups and individual groups are holding eat ins to send a message to Congress about real food. If there isn't an eat in scheduled in your area, the site has handy guides on how to organize your own.
Get heard. Tell your friends, tell your family, tell your Congressperson why this issue is important! You can download a handy pdf of talking points right here. If you're not sure who your Congressperson is, don't despair! Here's a simple way to look up your representative and send a letter at the same time.
Image Credit: Slow Food Picnic avatars by Jill Brunner