National School Lunch Week is upon us. It’s a week designated each year as a time to educate the public on school lunches, examine how the system works, and evaluate effectiveness. Much has changed with the school lunch program in 2014, with tougher standards and regulations enacted in an effort to improve student health and control obesity.
The National School Lunch Program has been around for decades and it has impacted most every person reading this article. But how much do you really know about school lunches, regulations, and the like? Knowledge is power, and the more you know about government involvement in school food, the better equipped you will be to make informed decisions. Here are 10 facts you may not have known about the National School Lunch Program:
- The National School Lunch Program was originally launched in 1946 as a means to provide food to hungry students and help them focus on learning. It was also a means to help stabilize food prices at a time when farms were producing excess crops and driving prices lower.
- More than 32 million children are served by the National School Lunch program each day. The program is operated and administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
- School lunches operate under a three- tier reimbursement system. Children who qualify can receive free or reduced price meals and schools are reimbursed accordingly. Even the meals served at full price qualify for at least some government reimbursement, which is paid directly to the school.
- To qualify for free lunch, household income must be at or below 130 percent of federal poverty level. Reduced price lunches are granted to students who live in households with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the federal poverty level. For the 2013- 214 year, 130 percent of poverty = $30,615 for a family of four; 185% of poverty = $43,568 for a family of four.
- For a meal to qualify for reimbursement, it must meet nutritional guidelines and must derive no more than 30 percent of total calories from fat and no more than 10 percent of total calories from saturated fat.
- Non- profit private schools may also participate in the National School Lunch Program. It is not a requirement, but it makes good financial sense to participate because the meals are at least partially reimbursable.
- The Healthy, Hunger- Free Kids Act, signed into law in 2010, ushered in more rigid nutrition standards meant to improve eating habits and fight child obesity. Its provisions took effect in 2014.
- Fast food chains like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Subway, and others are permitted to sell their food at most schools. Because they are not part of the reimbursable, National School Lunch Program, they do not have to follow precisely the same nutritional guidelines.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Smart Snacks Nutritional Standards, which just took effect this school year, set tougher standards for a la carte lunch items and vending machine food and drink, limiting calories, sodium, sugar, etc.
- The National School Lunch Program cost taxpayers about $12 billion to operate for the most recent fiscal year.
Copyright 2014, Bryan Carey