Project Bread's Plan for Better School Meals

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Informative article about how Project Bread is helping school lunch programs to serve nutritious healthy meals that help kids perform better in school.

As school systems cope with higher costs for food and fuel, Project Bread, Massachusetts’ leading antihunger organization, provides a new Better Lunch Toolkit for food service directors. The Better Lunch Toolkit ensures school meals are leaner, leafier, and more colorfully nutritious.

Through Better Lunch, developed in cooperation with the Harvard School of Public Health and the School of Nutrition at Tufts University, Project Bread gives helpful guidelines to combat childhood obesity and nourish hungry children. Project Bread’s Better Meals Initiative — with the already-established Better Breakfast Toolkit, as well as Better Lunch and Marketing Healthy Foods Toolkits — is intended to guide food service directors in their menu planning and product ordering, as well as give them strategies to help kids embrace the change.

“People ask if the schools can afford to serve healthier food,” says Ellen Parker, the executive director of Project Bread. “We believe they can’t afford not to. With childhood obesity and type II diabetes on the rise, all of us will pay the price for a low-income child’s medical care down the line. Beyond the dollars and cents argument, we have a moral obligation to ensure that all children get a fair chance at a healthy and successful life.”

When schools invest in the healthy food they serve their students, the results can show up in improved academic performance, more attentive classroom behavior, and better lifelong health habits. Says Parker: “With our new lunch toolkit we’ve worked out the most nutritious, appealing, and kid-friendly meals possible. We’ve made an investment in sourcing all the products and vendors for both breakfast and lunch so that a busy food service director can work within a tight budget. The Marketing Healthy Foods Toolkit will help them take the lead in making his or her school food a model of good eating.

“The chefs and food service directors who have helped us are professionals who are passionate about feeding kids well,” continued Parker. “With these toolkits and our growing investment in locally grown produce, we can bring the snap and crunch of fresh apples and other produce into the cafeteria while helping food service directors stay within budget.”

Schools are beginning to pay attention. The Better Breakfast Initiative, which began four years ago with three programs in Lawrence and Southbridge, now boasts 22 low-income schools in seven cities and towns. Three Boston public schools are now part of a pilot program in which Chef Kirk Conrad has forsaken frying for heart-healthy meals appealing to kids. Chef Conrad educates cafeteria managers about healthier ways to prepare foods such as adding fresh herbs instead of relying on heavy sauces. And throughout the Framingham school district, under the direction of food service director and chef Brendan Ryan, Project Bread guidelines for Better Breakfast and Lunch mean students eat more fresh fruit, whole grains, leaner cuts of meat, and low-fat dairy products.

Project Bread believes school meals are fundamental to good nutrition because schools provide the bulk of calories consumed by children and teenagers whose families struggle to put food on the table at home. Food service directors have a unique opportunity to create access to nutritious foods and help students develop healthy eating habits at a young age.

“We work closely with food service directors,” said Elaine Taber, director of Education Policy at Project Bread. “We listen and tweak. We understand that shifting from high fat macaroni and cheese to turkey wraps can take a little internal marketing, but that kids will accept and even become champions of the change. We also understand the economics of school food and therefore have included cost cutting strategies in our new lunch toolkit. We know that improving nutrition can happen even in today’s economy, and we’re here to help schools make the shift.”

About Project Bread
As the state’s leading antihunger organization, Project Bread has taken the lead in advocating for nutritionally enhanced school meals for low-income children as part of its mission to alleviate, prevent, and ultimately end hunger in Massachusetts. Best known for The Walk for Hunger, the oldest continual pledge walk in the country, Project Bread provides millions of dollars each year in privately donated funds to 400 emergency food programs in 126 communities statewide. Project Bread also seeks new ways to provide food to hungry families in everyday settings. With the support of the state’s legislature, the organization has invested millions in grants to community organizations that feed children where they live, learn, and play. For more information, visit www.projectbread.org.

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