Fresh Fruits and Veggies in NSLP
One of the stated goals of the NSLP is to improve children’s fruit and vegetable consumption. In order for meals to be reimbursable by the USDA, schools must offer at least two choices of fruit and/or vegetables.
While potatoes, green beans, corn, and peas are commonly served in school lunch programs, vegetables rich in iron and calcium such as kale, collards, chard, and broccoli are rarely served. Schools are somewhat better about serving carotenoid-rich vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes, but they still fall short of offering a good variety and quantity of low-fat, cholesterol-free vegetable options.
In an analysis conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2003, 78 percent of students in grades 9-12 had consumed fewer than five servings of fruits and/or vegetables during the seven days before the survey. The NSLP and others providing food for children must continue to work hard to change these alarming statistics.
Current national efforts to increase fruits and vegetables in school lunch:
- Department of Defense (DOD) Fresh Program: Today the DOD Fresh Program provides 50 million dollars to 43 states, Puerto Rico, The Virgin Islands, and Guam to spend on fresh fruit and produce. Some limitations to this program include:
- As more states and schools participate the budget remains the same. Therefore, the amount given to each school to spend is lessened.
- Many items can only be ordered and are available regionally, limiting the variety of produce available in some areas.
- Using DOD Commodity produce may be more expensive than using local vendors.
- Farm to School Programs: Farm to School programs are gaining in popularity across the country. Their goal is to connect schools with local farms in order to provide more fresh fruits and vegetables to school cafeterias to help improve student nutrition while also supporting local small farmers. The National Farm to School program is a project of the Center for Food and Justice and is funded by the USDA Initiative for Future Agriculture and Food Systems.
- Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004: Through this Act the USDA’s Fruit and Vegetable Pilot Program created in the 2002 Farm Bill was expanded to four additional states and two additional Indian reservations. The program provides free fruit and vegetable snacks to 25 schools in each of the participating states and reservations. In the pilot program, students increased their consumption of fruits and vegetables not only as a part of the snack pilot program, but also during school lunch and even after school at home. The program will continue in the original states of Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and the Zuni Indian Reservation. It will also expand into Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Washington state, as well as two additional Indian reservations.