Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What's for Lunch?

Currently our beloved regulate your lives government is looking at and probably making more complicated then it needs to be our school lunch programs across the country. One comment I took to heart was an obvious show of frustration from a school lunch provider in a school district of the complexity of rules, money allocations,supplier hurdles created by government red tape at the local and national level. The bottom line is we as Americans want to provide a healthy school lunch at an affordable cost for our children so that they have the nutrition in their little bodies that allows them to learn and at the same time does not turn them into future obese adults.
The solution is very simple. All school districts throughout the United States operate as a collective business like Walmart or McDonalds. Come up with a selection of menu meal plans and the specific need for products and approach manufacturers with the standardized needs for said products and buy as a giant buying consortium. IE fresh flash frozen vegetables could be bought in bulk through Birds Eye. Organic free range grass fed Beef and or Buffalo Meat and chicken bought from one supplier. Canned fruit in it's own juices bought in bulk from Dole. Fresh Citrus Fruit bought through Florida and California fruit growers. Whole grain Breads through bakeries like Arnolds, or Pepperidge Farms,Protein whole grain pasta's and organic sauces from suppliers like Barilla, Cow and Soy Milk products from organic farmers. We set a national standard of low sugar,no corn syrup, no corn fed animals,whole grains,and organic dye free products. If we can offer tax incentives from the federal government for these manufacturers who assist in providing these products to these standards would be of great help in negotiations. Even schools without cooking from stratch facilities can approach a company like Chef Boyardee to design products using these healthier ingredients. By combining all districts together they can present a huge buying consortium and thus negotiate on price and quality.
The second thing to do is remove all standard vending machines out of schools. If a school insists on a vending machines it can contain only those choices that reflect the health of the school lunch programs. IE bottled waters without sugar,milk reg and soy,50/50 organic juice boxs with no corn syrup,Kashi brand like snacks that involve whole grains,fresh fruit,fresh vegetable snacks,grass fed organic meat jerkies,naturally sweetened fruit yogurts etc.
Choices should be limited for children. Children will choose the sugary, the unhealthy choices by nature. We as adults need to make the choices for them so that each generation gets healthier. We need to help children's palets to develope a taste for healthier foods.
The Feds could meet with the heads of each state and a consortium of potential suppliers based on these goals (like Kashi) and present to them the buying power of a nationwide collective of school districts. Every 2 years or so they would meet again to discuss what works and what doesn't work and what new things they may wish to purchase as tastes and needs change based on feedback from the school districts and student reaction to product tastes,choices and flavors. Menus could be designed to include many food choices from popular food selections like Mac and Cheese, Chicken Nuggets,Pizza, Hamburgers,french fries, using healthier food content like protein whole grain pasta with lower fat cheeses etc.
Approach this need like more of a fast food business and we can achieve a better more fiscally sound school lunch program with higher nutritional value.
States like California, Florida, New York, Texas etc with large immigrant populations have the most demand on their programs due to the high need for assisted lunch programs for these low income families. These high number states would increase the buying power of the those districts with low populations that normally would not have the buying power. Not only the school lunch, but before and after school feeding programs could also join in with this consortium and eliminate duplication of administrative costs of said programs.
In the long run we will impact not only the children but also the families by teaching the young healthier eating choices. When mom or dad goes down the grocery aisle and the child asks for a bag of apples rather than a bag of chips a whole family can be impacted for the good of all the nation. The more families choose heathier food choices the lower all healthier foods will go in price and become accessible for all in the American family pantry.
In response to recent comment. 01/01
Running as a collective as a city or state is not large enough of a collective to have any bargaining power.
City corruption and cronism is a constant problem when multiplied by far too many executive and middle administrators. Operating as a collective nationwide with requests for products from each school coming from the person actually responsible for direct distribution eliminates this redundency of administrative middleman and salaries. Those persons would present their needs to one state representative who then takes those requests to the Federal coordinator. This eliminates duplication and reduces opportunity for wasted and misdirected city and or state funds. By establishing fewer administrators we also lower costs of product purchasing and devote more dollars to the funds for quality food.

Also I can see a need for creating an advisory board made up of folks from the business world like McDonalds and Walmart who have used volume wholesale buying clout to enable them to dictate to suppliers price point and production specs of products needed. By utilizing the profit motivated knowledge developed in the private sector public servants learn to operate government operations in a more fiscally responsible and business like model.

From an article in Amber Waves

USDA support is intended to cover much of the cost of providing NSLP lunches, and most of it is in the form of cash reimbursement for meals served. In 2007-08, USDA reimbursed schools $2.47 for each free lunch served, $2.07 for each reduced-price lunch, and $0.23 for each paid lunch (see box, “The National School Lunch Program Feeds More Children in a Day Than McDonald’s”). Basic Federal reimbursement rates are the same for all school districts across the country except in Hawaii and Alaska, which have higher rates to compensate for higher food prices in those States. Rates are also 2 cents more in districts where at least 60 percent of school meals are served free or at a reduced price. Reimbursement rates are adjusted by the Consumer Price Index for Food Away from Home for Urban Consumers once a year for inflation.

Federal Government contributions to the NSLP were $8.7 billion in 2007, with $7.7 billion in cash payments and $1.04 billion in commodity donations.

USDA also donates commodities to States to use in school lunches. In FY 2007, the commodities given to schools were worth 17 cents per meal for a total of $1.04 billion. Donation amounts vary per year, depending on availability and prices. States select from a wide variety of foods (including fruit and vegetables), based on what school food authorities need for their planned menus. The 2002 farm bill directed that USDA spend $200 million of entitlement funds for fruit and vegetables from 2002 through 2007, and the 2008 farm bill increased that amount to $406 million by 2012. In addition to the basic “entitlement” commodities, “bonus” commodities are sometimes available through USDA’s price support and surplus removal programs.

The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program is another program designed to increase fruit and vegetable availability to schools. Federal dollars are used directly by schools to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables for snacks. The 2008 farm bill called for a gradual expansion of this program to all States by 2012 and a total expenditure of $1 billion.

Creating a a uniform cohesive system will enable better use of existing funds and improve the quality of the food our young people are consuming and inturn lead to real healthcare reform.


  1. Your ideas for the types of healthy foods included in schools luch programs sounds great!!

  2. I agree with the intent here, but the biggest problem that schools have is that healthy foods simply cost more. Many schools are already purchasing like a cooperative, but that only goes so far when distribution systems are very inefficient and it is difficult and expensive to get quality products to schools. If you look in Chicago, they are acting like a purchasing cooperative right now and they are making improvements, but once you take labor and overhead into account, the current Federal reimbursements still only allow for about $1 for food costs. No matter how well run a cooperative purchasing program is, this isn't enough for quality food consistently. And if schools aren't getting federal support, then the schools have to either cut back in their educational programming, or cut back on the quality of their food. It's not a choice that I would want to be faced with.