Dishing Out the Fast Food

June 11, 2009

By Mark Bishop, Deputy Director

Want to get a good flavor of where schools are coming from? Then read this, an inside look at why schools sell name-brand fast foods to students at lunch. It reveals how schools must encourage more students to buy lunch in order to cover the labor and facilities costs of running a cafeteria, and says that students flock to meals with familiar fast-food names. And it will probably make you mad. You get to decide who you're mad at.

The article says:

The only way to keep the lunchroom running, then, is to
keep students buying. And when brand-name items appear on the menu, “the kids
will line up a mile long,” said Amy Hedrick, the food service supervisor in the
Scotts Valley Unified School District in California…

“Financially, it’s better for us if we go up to 400 meals,”
Hedrick said. “If I do not break even and I encroach into the general fund, I’m
going to have to cut back my staff.”

There are real challenges to providing healthy school meals. But none is bigger
than than the lack of resources. With the federal government reimbursing
schools $2.57 for every free lunch served, despite  lunch costing on average $0.35
more than that (and significantly more in large urban districts), how can a
school lunch program stay afloat?

As implied in the above quote, schools
don't want to invest general revenue to make improvements to the lunch program. And should they have to? Should any school have to pit nutrition against education dollars?

We really do need to keep fast food out of schools. However, that can't be done
without greater investment in the quality of school food and greater investment
in nutrition education. The reality is that kids will eat healthier options.

You can lend your voice to the fight for better school food by sending  a letter in support of a well-funded reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act this year. Visit HSC’s Child Nutrition resource center to learn more.