by Emily Richmond, Public Editor, Education Writers Association
Students in public schools are eating healthier cafeteria meals made from an increasing array of locally sourced food, according to new federal data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The USDA surveyed school districts to evaluate the impact of “Farm-to-School” initiatives in place at over 42,000 campuses. More than 10,000 districts provided input-a response rate of 60 percent on the survey. Among the findings: Nearly $600 million in locally produced food was purchased by schools in the 2013-14 academic year, a 55 percent increase over 2011-12 (when the first Farm-to-School census was conducted). More than half of the census respondents said they planned to increase their local food purchases in the coming year.
The new data come as Congress is debating whether to renew the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which took effect in 2012. The act brought stricter standards to publicly funded school lunchroom menus, including a greater emphasis on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as promoting foods lower in saturated fat and overall calories. A 2014 survey by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the American Heart Association, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found seven out of 10 parents supported the new standards.