Collaborating to Achieve Excellence in School Meals

  • Article
  • April 7, 2017

As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I believe our greatest national resource is our children.

We owe it to them to make the school meal experience the best it can be to help them live healthier lives, do better in school and have a positive influence on their families and communities.

With those goals in mind, National Dairy Council (NDC) and Urban School Food Alliance co-sponsored the Nourish to Flourish Summit on March 28-30. Leaders from every sector of the school-meal system, including school nutrition professionals, administrators, registered dietitians, food-company CEOs, chefs, farmers, teachers and students came together with energy, focus and determination. As a group, they believe school meals are as important as textbooks as essential learning tools.

Two realities drive a sense of urgency to make progress in this school nutrition. First, national school meal programs feed more than 30 million children in 100,000 schools across the U.S. every day, but nearly half of all students are not taking advantage of this valuable resource.

Second, childhood hunger in America is widespread, with 15 million children living in families that struggle to put enough food on the table. One young student at the summit told us the lunch she has at school each day was the only food she could depend on consistently. This 8th grader put a face on food insecurity, making this challenge a real-life issue and not just an abstract problem.

By the end of the summit, we came up with some potential solutions and committed ourselves to making change happen in the following ways:

  • Using technology to create one interconnected ecosystem including food ordering
  • Envisioning the cafeteria of the future
  • Figuring out how to achieve zero landfill waste from school cafeterias
  • Elevating the milk experience (more to come!)
  • Changing the culture and national narrative around school meals
  • Integrating school meal programs into the school day experience

Ultimately, though, the success of these projects lies with the students, who will decide whether their cafeteria meals are something they want and not just something that is put in front of them. We want them to experience food as part of a healthy lifestyle. Empowering them to make good food choices on their own is a first step to a better, healthier life.

Student involvement and empowerment is what has made the Fuel Up to Play 60 (FUTP 60) program, which was launched by National Football League and NDC in collaboration with USDA, a catalyst for positive changes in school nutrition and physical activity.

Health and wellness professionals, community leaders and parents and grandparents all have an opportunity to help identify and develop solutions to provide good nutrition for America’s children. Find out how you can get involved in making change happen through the FUTP 60 program in your community.

I’m so excited to see how these projects may be pursued over the next year and can’t wait to share those updates with you.