What You Need to Know About School Lunch

Published January 20, 2012 | Updated January 26, 2012
Subject: Other
Place of Learning: Cafeteria
Resource Type: School Lunch Reform
Uploaded by:
Emilie Gioia
Program Affiliations:

What You Need to Know about School Lunch was written in 2008 with the intention to be a first resource for community members, parents, policy makers, and educators who are frustrated with what children are being served for lunch every day in our public schools and who want to do something about it. The guidance in this booklet is based on our efforts to reinvent the meal program in the Berkeley public schools . While our work in Berkeley is far from finished, we have certainly made significant progress. Besides making changes to what children eat and where it comes from, we have put equal emphasis on how children learn about food. We hope this book helps you take steps to improving your children's school lunch.



In order to consider how your school or district might change school meals, you need to understand the big picture of how school meals are funded and the rules and regulations schools are required to meet.

The alarm over the current childhood obesity and associated diabetes epidemics has created a great deal of interest in changing school food and nutrition policies. Statistically, more than 65 percent of all Americans are obese or overweight. Now the most commonly diagnosed medical condition of childhood, obesity is an independent risk factor for many other diseases, including high blood pressure, asthma, and type 2 diabetes. While all of the related conditions are problematic in both childhood and adulthood, the Centers for Disease Control has stated that because of type 2 diabetes, the current generation will probably be the first in American history to die at a younger age than its parents did.

This national crisis has prompted concerned parents, teachers, and leaders to think about how to create healthier options for children at school. More than 30 million children participate in the National School Lunch Program, and the federal government spends $8.7 billion of our tax dollars each year on school lunch. Yet what most schools offer students is often not appetizing and only marginally nutritious. Dozens of states and districts have now passed legislation banning sodas, limiting fat content, or increasing nutritional requirements in an attempt to curb the development of obesity by improving the diets of children.

This booklet is for anyone who cares about what children eat for lunch. We answer the most basic questions about how school lunches are funded and why the food is so bad. We provide an overview of the complex set of issues involved in changing school lunch and advice on how to begin to make changes.

We have found that it takes steady pressure—relentlessly applied—as well as leadership within the school system to make change happen in a community. The dramatic changes to school lunch that have taken place in the Berkeley public schools are a result of a committed coalition of stakeholders, from parents to politicians to grassroots organizations, working together for over a decade.

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