School Lunch Report Card Shows Some Improvement
PCRM’s seventh annual School Lunch Report Card finds many school cafeterias improving, but more meatless meals are still needed to fight childhood obesity. The report card grades the nation’s major school districts on how well schools promote the benefits of healthy eating to students. This year, PCRM dietitians analyzed the lunches served to elementary school students in 20 school districts across the country.
PCRM dietitians were looking for schools that offer a healthful vegetarian entrée daily and a cholesterol-free vegan option daily, serve a fresh fruit or a low-fat vegetable side dish, provide a nondairy beverage to all students, and offer programs that promote healthful eating habits.
To receive a high grade in PCRM’s School Lunch Report Card, schools must go above and beyond U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requirements. Many nutrition experts, including PCRM, agree that these requirements are inadequate and outdated because they continue to permit schools to serve high-fat, high-cholesterol meals on a regular basis and do not have requirements for fiber content or plant-based meals.
This year’s report card showed several positive trends. There are an increasing number of healthful vegetarian and vegan options available for students, and 100 percent of schools participating this year offer a nondairy beverage, up from 73 percent in 2007 and 67 percent in 2006. The majority of school food service programs offer some form of nutrition education.
Despite these positive changes, there remains a wide disparity between school districts. While seven school districts in this year’s report received an A- or higher, six districts lagged behind with D's and F's. The lowest-scoring districts had menus heavy on grilled bratwurst, pepperoni pizza, and other high-fat, high-cholesterol items and light on low-fat meatless meals.
The results of this year’s School Lunch Report Card are especially timely, as the USDA is currently seeking recommendations from the public on ways to improve the Child Nutrition Act, which regulates the National School Lunch Program and provides federal assistance for school lunches.
PCRM doctors and other experts have actively sought improvements to the Child Nutrition Act, which will come before Congress for reauthorization in 2009, by attending USDA-sponsored “listening sessions.” During these sessions, PCRM and its members asked the USDA to increase access to low-fat, cholesterol-free vegetarian foods that will help reverse the rising prevalence of obesity and other chronic diseases.
To learn more about the School Lunch Report Card, please visit HealthySchoolLunches.org.