From Boulder to NYC: Meeting and Exceeding School Lunch Requirements
On July 1, school lunch leaders from around the country spoke to a packed room of Capitol Hill staffers at a congressional briefing co-hosted by the Physicians Committee and Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo. The panelists traveled to the nation’s capital to oppose the waiver in the 2015 Agriculture Appropriations Bill that would weaken school nutrition standards; they also advocated for greater reforms to the National School Lunch Program.
The line for the catered lunch—a healthful meal inspired by DC Central Kitchen’s own school menu—was out the door, and within minutes the briefing was standing room only.
The catered meal, inspired by DC Central Kitchen’s school lunches, included black bean burritos, Mexican rice and corn salad, roasted zucchini, and fresh berries and summer melon.
Dr. Neal Barnard, Physicians Committee president and the panel’s moderator, encouraged Hill staff to oppose the House waiver so that school lunch reforms can pave the way for improved standards such as a daily plant-based entrée option and nondairy milk. Dr. Barnard remarked that according to a Harvard study and a government report, kids are eating more fruits and vegetables as a result of the new school lunch requirements, which went into full effect the day of the event.
These standards require less sodium, more fruits and vegetables in breakfast, healthier snack and à la carte items, and more whole grains for schools that can provide them. Each panelist called for these requirements to be preserved and pushed even further, despite the roadblocks in Congress.
“No matter where you come down on these issues, you have to agree that every single one of us should care about our children. We have to support healthy food in schools,” said Renegade Lunch Lady Chef Ann Cooper, nutrition services director of Boulder Valley School District in Colorado, which encompasses more than 50 schools and serves more than 11,000 meals each day. “We need vegetarian choices for our kids,” she added.
Capitol Hill staffers load up school lunch trays with a healthful vegan meal
Darlene Moppert, M.S., R.D., program manager for nutrition education and training at Broward County Public Schools (BCPS), spoke about her district’s efforts to improve access to plant-based options in the cafeterias—a success they achieved with help from the Physicians Committee. BCPS is the sixth-largest public school district in the nation and serves meals to more than 230,000 students, including 139,000 low-income students, in its school lunch and breakfast program. BCPS now serves one hot vegan meal per week and a vegan salad every day, and staff promote the menu options with interactive taste tests and creative nutrition curricula.
Robert Groff, principal of The Active Learning Elementary School (TALES), an all-vegetarian school in New York, echoed Moppert’s enthusiasm for offering plant-based school breakfasts and lunches. “There is a clear connection between health and nutrition education and academic achievement,” he remarked. “When I have a kid who says ‘I love kale!’ that’s a big deal.” Groff added that since making the changes to go all-vegetarian, BMI has decreased and school staff observe more energy in the students and no lull after lunch.
TALES Principal Robert Groff addresses the packed room
The panelists also countered several of the misperceptions surrounding school lunch improvements. Andy Finke, the Chief Operating Officer of DC Central Kitchen, stressed that vegetarian meals can be both healthful and delicious. They’re also quite popular: “If somebody can buy a banana instead of a Ho-Ho, it flies off the shelves,” he said.
What’s the bottom line? Improving the National School Lunch Program to address chronic disease—and the achievement gap—is well worth the cost and effort. “We need to get more people to understand the cost-benefit: It’s 10 cents for a vegetable or $10,000 for a bypass surgery,” said Finke.
“We can’t afford not to feed children in a healthy way,” Dr. Barnard said.
The Physicians Committee works to ensure all children develop more healthful eating habits and encourages a greater emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans and an avoidance of processed meat and dairy products in federal nutrition programs.
For more information, please visit www.HealthySchoolLunches.org.
From left to right: Panelists Robert Groff, Ann Cooper, Neal Barnard, M.D., Darlene Moppert, M.S., R.D., and Andy Finke
Chef Ann Cooper is a nationally renowned author, chef, educator, and advocate. Cooper previously served as the nutrition service director for Berkeley Unified School District and is currently the food service director for Boulder Valley School District in Colorado. Watch her presentation here. Or download the presentation PDF here.
Robert Groff is the principal and co-founder of P.S. 244, The Active Learning Elementary School (TALES), in New York City, one of the first public schools to adopt an all-vegetarian menu. Watch his presentation here. Or download the presentation PDF here.
Darlene Moppert, M.S., R.D., is the program manager for nutrition education and training at Broward County Public Schools, the sixth largest public school district in the nation. Watch her presentation here. Or download the presentation PDF here.
Andy Finke serves as chief operating officer leading DC Central Kitchen’s (DCCK) overall business operations, strategic partnerships, and revenue-generating operations.Watch his presentation here. Or download the presentation PDF here.
Meeting and Exceeding School Lunch Requirements - Questions and Answers. Watch the presentation here.