Advocates to Congress: Don’t forget school lunch money

    School lunch providers say they want to offer healthier meals for kids but often don’t have adequate funding to add vegetables and whole grains to the menu.

    School lunch providers say they want to offer healthier meals for kids but often don’t have adequate funding to add vegetables and whole grains to the menu. A federal bill is designed to increase reimbursements and improve nutrition at school.
    (Photo: Flickr/Ben+Sam)

    On average schools get about $2.72 to provide free lunch to low-income kids. After overhead and administration costs, about $1 to $1.30 is left for food.

    Temple University recently tested a program that added more healthy options in some Philadelphia schools. Registered dietitian Amy Virus says not all the changes were costly. Instead of a side of peas, for example, the new menu offered a vegetable medley, including cauliflower and carrots.

    Virus: It brings more color to the plate, and the more color we had on the plate, the more eye appeal there was, and it just looks better. The kids wanted to eat it. We also offered more of a variety of salad mixtures, so we had romaine and we had a spring mix.

    Buying low-fat main dishes can be pricey, but Virus says Temple found a turkey burger that was both affordable and popular.

    In addition to more funding, the federal child nutrition bill would eliminate some of the paperwork needed to enroll poor kids in the free lunch program.

    Philadelphia schools serve about 110,000 lunches each day. So, Virus says, even a penny’s increase adds up quickly.

    Temple University’s Center for Obesity Research and Education tested the low-fat, nutrition dense options on kids.

    Virus: In Philadelphia it’s very important to have an Amoroso roll, but Amoroso actually makes a whole grain version of their roll. So, we were able to to bring that in. We were able to stay with the same vendor and stay with a product that the kids liked.

    After the study, Philadelphia switched back to its regular menu, but officials say they’re hiring a consultant to help the district provide healthier options.

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