“I hope we are ahead of the curve,” Dawn Robinson of the Cleveland Board of Education, said.
In 2008, Shelly Copeland, child nutrition supervisor for Cleveland City Schools, approached the Cleveland Board of Education with proposed changes for school lunches to bring them in line with the board’s wellness policy. Now some of those changes are going to be federally mandated for all schools through the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2011.” Passed earlier this week, the new law requires schools to make meals more nutritional, while providing some funding for the changes and for the addition of an after-school meal as part of the free and reduced lunches program.
According to a news report by the Associated Press, “The new law aims to cut down on greasy foods and extra calories by giving the government power to decide what kinds of foods may be sold on school grounds, including in vending machines and at fundraisers.”
After Copeland’s presentation to the board, fruits and vegetables became more available in cafeterias. Salads were also made available at all the Cleveland City schools.
“(The) USDA encouraged us to start using more whole grains,” Copeland said, commenting that the school system made this change.
Copeland also said that the school system tries to buy low-fat pizza and chicken nuggets. Pizza served in Cleveland City Schools also features whole grain crust. Food service employees also reduce the fat content in the ground beef they use by rinsing the cooked meat with hot water, Copeland said.
“I think our food service (employees) have done a great job of making healthy food,” Robinson said. “We try to buy local produce and eat healthy.”
Students’ access to unhealthy vending machine snacks has also been limited. According to Robinson, Cleveland elementary schools have never had vending machines. Six or seven years ago vending machines in other schools were moved to a locked room and made unavailable to students until after lunch.
Despite the proactive approach to nutrition, Copeland said there will probably still need to be additional changes made to be in compliance with the new law. However, she is not sure yet what these will be. Specific nutrition standards in accordance with the new law are yet to be determined by the USDA. Copeland said the “USDA will give guidance to the state,” who will then pass them on to the individual school systems.
Although the new law does include an increase in funding, Robinson said this will not be enough to cover the estimated increase in cost of the free and reduced lunches program. On the national level the cost of this school lunch is estimated to increase between 11 and 25 cents per meal while the law only increases funding by 6 cents per meal. According to Copeland, “slightly over 60% of our students” participate in the free and reduced lunch program.
One major reason for the passage of the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2011” was to decrease childhood obesity.
Copeland said that nutrition education is an integral part of the Cleveland City schools, and that the system is “taking an aggressive approach” to childhood obesity.