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The Physicians Committee



PCRM Report Card Reveals School Lunch Disparities

It’s 12 o’clock: Do you know what your child is 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.

kids with school lunchFor this year’s School Lunch Report Card, PCRM dietitians analyzed the lunches served in 22 of the nation’s 100 largest elementary school districts. Healthful lunches rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and other vegetarian foods not only nourish children, but help them maintain normal body weights, develop good lifelong eating habits, and reduce the risk of chronic disease later in life.

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 featured regularly 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.

Ten of the 22 schools earned a B- or higher. Pinellas County Schools in Florida received the top score of 94. Students in this school district were treated to regular vegetarian options, a low-fat vegetable side dish and salad daily, and free juice. The district also participates in an innovative nutrition education program called “Teen Cuisine” in which older students partner with local chefs to create cooking shows featuring healthy recipes for younger children.

Oakland Unified School District in California won the title of Most Improved from last year’s report. The district now offers a variety of featured vegetarian and vegan options, which are clearly labeled with a “V,” and recently implemented a free bottled water program in two of its schools.

On the other end of the report card, 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 sloppy Joes and nachos. These schools could also improve their score by adding more healthful vegetable and fruit side dishes.

2007 School Lunch Report Card

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

 



 

PCRM Online, September 2007

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