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“Eating program” to clarify Healthy School Food Light

2 September 2009 1,920 views No Comment

The same week most area students go back to school, a national group that advocates for healthy food will hold more than 270 “eat-ins” on Labor Day, including one in Tiverton organized by the group’s Rhode Island chapter.

Creating healthier food options in schools would be an investment in childrens’ health, give schools an incentive to buy local produce and create jobs on farms and in cafeterias, and teach healthy habits, said Slow Food USA, which launched a campaign in June called “Time for Lunch.”

“The way we feed our kids is a reflection of our values,” said the national president, Josh Viertel. “We cannot, in good conscience, continue to make our kids sick by feeding them cheap by-products of an industrial food system.”

Slow Food is asking people to urge their legislators to support adding $1 more per day per child for lunch. The USDA gives schools $2.57 for each meal served to a student who qualifies for free lunch — 70 percent of Fall River’s students — but less than $1 goes toward actual ingredients, Slow Food said.

“For many kids, it’s the only healthy meal they’ll eat in the day,” said Rosemary Melli, who oversees New England for Slow Food USA. “It’s really important for kids and families to be involved in this.”

Slow Food Rhode Island is holding its eat-in, a potluck lunch, at the Tiverton Four Corners Arts Center at 2 p.m. on Labor Day, Mon., Sept. 7. The group has organized live music and invited local legislators and school officials. Eight eat-ins are also scheduled in Massachusetts. Anyone interested in participating should contact Melli at oliodimelli@comcast.net.

In Fall River, healthy food options have been expanding. A USDA Fresh Food and Vegetable grant of more than $200,000 will enable the Doran, Greene, Silvia, Viveiros and Watson elementary schools to serve fresh fruits and vegetables for afternoon snacks. The program was successful last year at the Viveiros school, said Lynn Petrowski, the assistant director of nutrition and food services.

The USDA program is available at schools where half or more students receive free or reduced-price meals.

Also new this year is a farm-to-school program that Fall River, and other school districts, have begun with Lanni Orchards, a farm in Lunenburg. That will also help bring fresh produce to Fall River schools, Petrowski said. The city is also participating in a program called Children in Balance that includes nutrition research, advocacy, training, and program testing and evaluation.

Petrowski hopes to expand a salad lunch option for students from the high schools and middle schools to the elementary schools by the end of the school year.

In a community with many low-income households, Petrowski said, nutritious meals and snacks, which are often more expensive than candy bars or fruit snacks, help families stretch their food budget. Budget constraints are an obstacle to healthier school meals, she said, but so are delivery issues (local farms often can’t supply as much produce as schools need) and growing seasons (local produce, like strawberries or blueberries, don’t grow during the school year).

The School Nutrition Association, a national group with more than 55,000 members, is advocating for more funding under the Child Nutrition Act, which Congress is set to review this fall. The group is calling for, among other things, standards that apply to food served outside the cafeteria, like those from vending machines.

E-mail Grant Welker at gwelker@heraldnews.com.

By Grant Welker

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