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Inside School Food

Author: Heritage Radio Network

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A showcase for fresh insights that are making a difference, and progressive solutions that really work. Peer leaders from across the nation share their stories about fighting hunger, coping with regulation, and meeting sustainability goals. About winning kids over and changing lives with creative menus packed with fresh whole food. Need help keeping up with emerging school nutrition policy, legislation, and research? We’ve got that covered, too. From the Heritage Radio Network.
72 Episodes
What can you get for a dime? Add it to the federal reimbursement for a school meal, and it buys a lot. Use it to support spending on farm to school, and it generates many more times its value in local economic development. That's the thinking behind Michigan's "10 Cents a Meal" pilot, which directs millions of dimes into locavore salad bars, entrees, and snacks for children in 16 districts. Modeled after trailblazing farm to school policy in Oregon, the program received state funding for the first time this year. At just $250K, it seems a small start. But its crafters, and its champions in the state Senate, are planning on big—statewide in time, just like in Oregon.
What's so smart about those USDA-regulated "Smart Snacks" sold in school vending machines? More whole grain, and lowered sugar, fat, and calories—even if they're Cheetos, Doritos, or Pop Tarts. These reformulated items are less unhealthy, sure, but new research from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity proposes that their "copycat" look and packaging is designed to maintain brand loyalty outside of school, where the original versions are heavily marketed to teens. The strategy may be working—and backfiring on school food service when the presence of perceived junk food undermines parent trust.
On July 6, 2016, the school nutrition community suffered the tragic loss of one of its own when Philando Castile was shot by police during a routine traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Philando—a.k.a. "Mr. Phil" and "Mr. Rogers with dreadlocks"—was the beloved 32-year-old cafeteria supervisor for the J.J. Hill Montessori School in Saint Paul. In this special episode, produced in collaboration with Saint Paul Public Schools, we hear about Philando from his colleagues and his mother, Valerie Castile. They join us in mourning, and in celebration of a life well lived and a job well done.Image: Student letter posted outside J.J. Montessori School, Saint Paul: "This year I was going to give you a gift but then you dided but Im giving you a gift anyway! You hade the biggest heart ever I rilly miss you. I rilly rilly miss you Your the best lunch man we ever could have I wish you were alive. You have Rainbows in your heart!"
In a move they say will “spur innovation,” Republicans on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce have voted to issue block grants for school nutrition programs in three pilot states, cutting them loose from federal federal mandates and supervision. #StopTheBlock’s opponents to this measure—to date, more than 1,000 organizations—say these states would be cut loose from a lot more. On today’s episode, Education/Workforce Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA) describes how block grants, because they’re easily shaved down in the federal budget, have historically led to the gutting of public services. Doug Davis of the Burlington (VT) School Food Project predicts an unraveling of standards, policies, and protocols that would cast farm-to-school and national supply chains into chaos and jeopardize the nutrition safety net of millions of children in need.
Community Eligibility (CEP) is the most popular program to be introduced to federal school meals programs in many years. To date, 18,247 high-poverty schools in nearly 3,000 districts have begun using it to slash cumbersome paperwork, eliminate stigma, and include food-insecure children whom the previous certification system had left behind. Under CEP, every child eats for free, regardless of pay status. This might seem wasteful of taxpayer dollars, but that's only until you take close look at how the policy is designed. Do that, and you'll discover how CEP wipes out costly inefficiencies, leaving more funds available to feed students who need nutrition assistance the most.
From two new studies, research you can use to pitch your breakfast program to students, parents, and school administrators. First, evidence that a morning meal is critical to maintaining healthy weight in adolescents.In fact, two breakfasts—at home and at school—are not just better than none, but very possibly better than just one. Second, evidence that participation goes up most reliably when the marketing strategy is direct, personal, and on-the-spot—and as simple as “Good morning, Johnny… How about you grab a breakfast on your way to class?”
Food courts at school are an increasingly popular way to win the participation of trend-savvy teenagers. If you’re flirting with the idea for any of your sites, give a close listen to today’s guests. They’re equally prepared to either talk you into or out of the immense investment involved in embracing this style of food service. Because it doesn’t involve just money, but also—and more significantly—a commitment to sea change in the entire school community’s attitude towards lunch. Not ready for that? Listen anyway, because best practices in the biggest, hippest food courts can be best practices anywhere.
We've all heard that too many cooks can spoil the broth, but that's hardly the case on today's episode. The new FRESHMeals collection of recipes for schools is the work of several dozen cooks from 18 "California Ambassador" districts, pledged to mentor and share best practices state-wide. It took more than two years of tightly coordinated trial-and-error to build a database of 140 (so far) dishes that are off-the-shelf school ready—fully vetted for practicability, affordability, customer appeal, and compliance with USDA meal standards. Not in California? No problem. FRESHMeals are available online, to everyone.
Ten days ago, POLITICO's Helena Bottemiller Evich reported the latest development in the long and difficult path to CNR 2015 (now CNR 2016, as it is more than six months overdue). "The House Education and the Workforce Committee has finally come up with a child nutrition reauthorization bill," she wrote, "and it looks like it could be everything health advocates feared." Indeed, there appear to be critical, troubling differences between this bill and the one released by the Senate's committee in early January. Today, with Helena’s help, we unpack the contents of this new bill and speculate over what may happen next.
When did school children start gobbling up quinoa with such pleasure? And how is it that they’re also reaching for salads made with unprocessed (hence “intact”) and highly nourishing unpolished rice, wheat berries, barley, buckwheat, and farro? Join Coleen Donnelly of InHarvest and five food service professionals from across the country to learn how to win over staff and students with intact grains. Which grains are gluten free, why are sprouted grains so special, and what makes a quinoa-kale burger so delicious? (Trust us: it is.) 
Today we re-visit a June 2014 episode with the salad bar gurus at Riverside Unified School District, in southern California. With new technical support for salad bars in schools on the way in CNR 2016, now is the time to take a close second look at a pioneering and celebrated program that still works as safely, profitably, and deliciously as it ever did. “Our attention to detail is what makes us different,” says Chef Ryan Douglas. Learn just what that means—and catch up on what RUSD has been up to since we last checked in.
As we await resolution on CNR 2016, one thing is certain: there will be new technical assistance grants for districts seeking to introduce more freshly prepared food in their cafeterias. Today, we update a Summer 2014 episode about an exemplary “train the trainer” program run by the Maryland Department of Education. Launched in 2011, its goal is reach every food service worker in the state by 2020 with a hands-on kitchen curriculum that restores pride in craft to their profession.
For the first time in the history of the USDA school meals programs, success in feeding kids (adolescents especially) is regarded as hip. K-12 nutrition providers, from the people who grow the food to those who serve it, are riding the national tide of food service trends that emphasize vivid, authentic flavor. “Cool ideas are going mainstream really quickly,” observes School Meals that Rock’s Dayle Hayes, who joins us today to review recent innovations—Asian street foods, mac-and-cheese bars, shaker salads, and much more—that we’ll be seeing all over in 2016.Photo courtesy of Whitson’s School Nutrition“Young people… are little foodies in a lot of ways. They have expectations because of what they’re experiencing in the world at large. They have an expectation of flavors.”–Dayle  Hayes on Inside School Food 
Kyushoku, or elementary school lunch, is a cherished tradition that embodies values central to Japanese culture: gratitude, cooperation, courtesy, cleanliness, reverence for nature, and pride of place. Much more than a meal, it’s a critical learning period at the heart of the school day. You’ll find it depicted in loving detail in a wildly popular short film by today’s guest, Atsuko Quirk. Americans might take away many lessons from what they see there, she says. But the Japanese, as they confront need and hunger in a shifting socioeconomic landscape, have much to learn from us in turn._School lunch in Japan: It’s not just about eating, _Atsuko Quirk film of kyushoku in Saitama, Japan (Vimeo)Other films by Atsuko Quirk on Website by Japan and East Asian specialist Agliano Sanborn (a work in progress that is already richly informational)Related Inside School Food episodes:“School lunch around the world: A 30-minute tour” (August 11, 2014)“Sortin’ it out: Composting comes to NYC schools” (July 13, 2015) 
As the year draws to a close, Dora Rivas joins us to look back and reflect—not just on 2015, but a half century of service as a dietitian and school food service director. Last August, when she left her post as Executive Director of food service for Dallas ISD, Dora was an iconic figure in K-12 nutrition, recognized nationally as an early adopter of well-defined public health goals for schools. But her story is about private goals, too, and their roots in family and a career launched in a South Texas migrant health clinic.  “Dora Rivas is on an insatiable quest to improve the nutrition in Dallas’ public schools,” Dallas Observer, June 26, 2014“My Interview with Dora Rivas, Former President of the School Nutrition Association,” The Lunch Tray, June 13, 2014“DISD school lunches reviewed: Restaurant critic Leslie Brenner goes back to school,”, August 19, 2015Related Inside School Food episode: “The Urban School Food Alliance Travels to France,” November 3, 2014
For processors of foods for the K-12 market, new USDA nutrition requirements arrived at the same time as increased public scrutiny of unfamiliar, often unpronounceable additives. Moving towards “clean label” while simultaneously lowering sodium and introducing whole grains is no problem when money is no object. But when constrained by school budgets, how do manufacturers deliver on all fronts? Today’s conversation with representatives from the nation’s largest suppliers in two key categories—tomato products, and rolls, pizza crusts, and flatbreads—talk about R&D successes to date, and the possibilities that lie ahead.“Tomato paste delivers a lot of nutrition for a small amount of product.” [13:00] – David Halt 
Today we venture into new territory with the help of Chef Lisa Feldman, who is Director of Culinary Services for Sodexo USA. As a major provider of school meals (413 districts, two million meals daily), it’s significant and influential in ways you may never have imagined. The company’s ambitious strategies to introduce ever-fresher, more wholesome, and more appealing food on a mass scale are freely shared throughout the K-12 nutrition industry. “Nothing is proprietary,” says Feldman, who prizes creative collaboration not just with processors and trade groups, but also self-ops and even Sodexo competitors. “When districts are all doing their own thing, it’s more expensive.”Additional ResourcesWild Alaska Pollock: 12 great recipes!: K-12 collection developed by Sodexo for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute and Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers“Sodexo finding whole grain success in school food service,” Food Business News, June 25, 2015“Lisa Feldman’s Yogurt and White Bean ‘Ranch’ Dressing,” New York Times, June 9, 2014Culinary Institute of America’s “Healthy Flavors, Healthy Kids” website
New Jersey is called the “Garden State” out of pride in an agricultural heritage that dates back hundreds of years. But in West New York, NJ, in the heart of the most densely populated area in the nation, the farms to the south were long unknown to low-income children growing up across the river from Manhattan. Today, that’s changed. The school menus and classroom curricula follow a locavore, culture-changing agenda that connects urban students to the land and the enjoyment of a wide variety of fresh-picked produce. In the middle school, students who began eating this way in kindergarten relish even the turnips and beets. “They trust us,” says Food Service Director Sal Valenza. “They’re not scared—they like to try new things.”
High school cooking competitions can be hugely effective in generating excitement around school food, especially during Farm to School season, when students can work with locally grown ingredients. In rural Vernon County, Wisconsin, there are just six high schools, each with an enrollment of less than 400. But their small size doesn’t undermine the excitement as teams and their chef-mentors spend a month preparing to capture top honors in a delicious face-off. The challenge: create a winning, workable school lunch menu, completely in line USDA nutrition regulations and with no more to spend than most public schools have—about $1 per plate. Additional Resources:Related Inside School Food episode: “Lunch lessons from teenage chefs” (Cooking Up Change competition profile, September 22, 2014)“Good Food and Teamwork_,” Wisconsin School News_ profile of the Harvest Challenge (August 2015)Viroqua Area Schools food service page (look for Farm to School links on the lower right)Driftless Cafe website“Mysteries of the Driftless,” Emmy-Award winning documentary about the natural history of the Driftless Area
Episode 53: A Taste of Hope

Episode 53: A Taste of Hope


For tribal communities across the Great Plains and Southwest, buffalo is the centerpiece of of traditional culture, a sacred food critical to the restoration of health and independence. As new herds grow on Native lands, a small group of schools have joined a pilot program that introduces buffalo not just to lunch trays, but also the classroom and students’ very idea of who they are. For the Intertribal Buffalo Council, which sponsors the project, it’s taken years to get this point. But for the children, it’s taken no time at all to embrace their legacy and clean their plates.Resource Links:Intertribal Buffalo Council websiteIncorporating Buffalo Meat into the Schools’ Lunch Menu: Intertribal Buffalo Council newsletter (PDF)White paper: Feeding Ourselves: Food access, health disparities, and the pathways to healthy Native American communities (PDF)
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