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PCRM Report Card Reveals School Lunch Disparities

girl with school lunchYou may know what your child is learning in science class—but what is she eating for lunch? A staggering 80 percent of schools do not meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) nutrition requirements, which mandate that schools serve meals deriving less than 30 percent of calories from fat and less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat. In its sixth School Lunch Report Card, PCRM has determined which school districts make the grade in the lunchroom—and which schools need to make improvements.

PCRM’s School Lunch Report Card grades the nation’s major school districts on the healthfulness of the food they serve and also on how well they promote the benefits of healthy eating to students. Healthful lunches rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and other vegetarian foods not only nourish children but also help them maintain normal body weights, develop good lifelong eating habits, and reduce the risk of chronic disease later in life. For this year’s report, PCRM dietitians analyzed the lunches served in 22 of the nation’s 100 largest elementary school districts.

Because the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) plays such an important role in developing children’s eating habits, schools have a unique opportunity to help stop the growing childhood obesity epidemic and the wide range of health problems that come with it, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer, by introducing children to healthy vegetarian foods right from the start.

The NSLP was established in 1946 to provide nutritious free and low-cost meals to students each day. Its secondary purpose was to encourage the consumption of domestic agricultural commodities. Schools participating in the NSLP receive cash subsidies, donated commodities, and free bonus commodities in return for serving meals that meet federal nutrition requirements. These commodities often consist of the USDA’s excess beef, pork, milk, and other high-fat products.

For the report card, PCRM graded schools based on criteria in three major categories: Obesity and Chronic Disease Prevention, Health Promotion and Nutrition Adequacy, and Nutrition Initiatives. To score highly, schools had to not only meet the USDA nutrition requirements, which permit high-fat, high-cholesterol foods to be regularly featured in school lunches, but also serve a nondairy vegetarian entrée daily, offer a variety of fresh or low-fat vegetable side dishes and fresh fruits daily, make a nondairy beverage available, and provide nutrition education in the cafeteria and through other programs.

This year, PCRM dietitians saw some positive trends: 64 percent of the schools regularly feature a vegan entrée or have them available upon request, 72 percent offer an alternative to cow’s milk, and vegetarian options have generally expanded past peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to include veggie burgers, pasta primavera, and bean burritos.

However, while 10 of the 22 schools earned a B- or higher, five schools received a failing grade. The lowest-scoring schools all had very limited vegetarian options and served too many high-fat foods, such as chicken nuggets, fish sticks, and hot dogs. These schools could improve their score by adding more healthful vegetable and fruit side dishes. 

School District

Score

Grade

Pinellas County Schools (Florida)

94

A

Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District (North Carolina)

92

A-

Fairfax County Public Schools (Virginia)

92

A-

San Diego Unified School District (California)

92

A-

Miami-Dade County Public Schools (Florida)

89

B+

Montgomery County Public Schools (Maryland)

87

B+

Oakland Unified School District (California)

84

B

Sacramento City Unified School District (California)

84

B

Volusia County Schools (Florida)

84

B

DeKalb County Schools (Georgia)

80

B-

Capistrano Unified School District (California)

79

C+

Davis School District (Utah)

77

C+

Santa Ana Unified School District (California)

75

C

Milwaukee Public Schools (Wisconsin)

72

C-

Orange County Public Schools (Florida)

67

D+

Atlanta Public Schools (Georgia)

67

D+

Omaha Public Schools (Nebraska)

66

D

Anchorage School District (Alaska)

60

F

Hancock County Schools (West Virginia)

59

F

Ysleta Independent School District (Texas)

58

F

Jordan County School District (Utah)

56

F

St. Louis Public Schools (Missouri)

53

F

 



 

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Phone: 202-686-2210     Email: pcrm@pcrm.org