USDA Helps Schools Make Lunchrooms "Smarter" as Students Head Back to Class
Washington, DC, August 21, 2014 - Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon today announced additional tools to help schools serve healthier meals and snacks as students return for the new school year.
The announcement includes $5.7 million in Team Nutrition grants to state agencies administering the National School Lunch and Child and Adult Care Food Programs. The grants will help states expand and enhance training programs that help schools encourage kids to make healthy choices. Several states will use the grants to increase the number of schools implementing Smarter Lunchroom strategies, which are methods for encouraging kids to choose healthy foods that were developed by child nutrition experts. Research has shown these strategies successfully lead to healthier choices among students. USDA is also funding 2,500 toolkits to provide school districts with the resources they need to take advantage of research on Smarter Lunchroom strategies.
In addition, USDA is re-launching the HealthierUS School Challenge, a voluntary program which provides financial awards to schools that choose to take steps to encourage kids to make healthy choices and be more physically active. All schools participating in the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program have the option to participate in HUSSC. Schools earning HUSSC designation receive a financial award, ranging from $500 to $2,000, based on the level of achievement.
"We're committed to supporting schools who want to ensure students head back to a healthier school environment this fall," said Concannon. "Parents, teachers, and school nutrition professionals want the best for their children, and want to provide them with proper nutrition so that they can learn and grow into healthy adults. USDA is proud to support the Smarter Lunchroom movement that provides schools with practical, evidence-based tools that they can use to help their students have a healthier school day."
Smarter Lunchrooms, developed by the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs (BEN) Center and funded in part by the USDA, is a set of best practices that have been shown to help encourage kids to make healthy choices. By using environmental cues such as better product placement and using creative names for healthier foods, these practical, research-based techniques increase student selection of healthier items and reduce plate waste. By changing the display and placement of fruit, for example, the researchers saw a doubling of sales. Similarly, creative naming and display of vegetables increased selection by 40 to 70 percent. Concannon said the Smarter Lunchroom strategies are also being incorporated into the criteria for HealthierUS School Challenge.
The new support for schools announced today builds on a number of resources that USDA has provided to help schools provide students with healthier food options, including technical assistance, resource materials, and $522 million in grants and additional reimbursements. More than 90 percent of schools report that they are successfully meeting those nutrition standards, which were based on recommendations from pediatricians and other child health experts at the Institute of Medicine. Research has shown that a majority of students like the healthier meals and that the standards have successfully increased consumption of fruits and vegetables. New Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards implemented this school year will offer students more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, leaner protein, lower-fat dairy - while decreasing foods with excessive amounts of added sugar, solid fats, and sodium.
USDA's Food and Nutrition Service administers 15 nutrition assistance programs. In addition to NSLP and SBP, these programs include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Summer Food Service Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) which together comprise America's nutrition safety net.