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AHA fosters and supports community efforts to make healthy eating and physical activity the way of life in Wake County.

School Lunches in Wake County…Did You Know?

By Sarah Martin, Wake PTA Council; Chair, AHA Board of Directors

As an estimated 160,000 students kick off the 2016-2017 school year in the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS), many students will be buying their lunch at school, and many parents may have questions about school lunches.

Scotts Ridge Elementary in Apex celebrating National School Lunch Week last year.

Scotts Ridge Elementary in Apex celebrating National School Lunch Week last year.

Did you know that lunches align with the school district’s Wellness Policy AND state and federal nutrition standards? Age-appropriate meals are based on the meal pattern set by the USDA, and Child Nutrition Services (CNS) in Wake County performs a nutrient analysis using software developed for school meal programs. CNS bakes rather than fries food, offers fresh produce, including some NC grown produce, along with whole grains, lean proteins plus 100% beef and whole muscle chicken, and lower-calorie snacks that meet federal Smart Snacks nutritional standards.

“School meals are an incredible value.  Students are offered a variety of appetizing choices every day including nutritious entrees, lean proteins, whole grains, an assortment of fruits and vegetables, and fat free milk.  For those that want something extra, we also offer healthy a la carte selections that are right-sized and meet nutrition standards for calories, fat, sugar and sodium,” said Paula De Lucca, SNS, Senior Director, CNS for WCPSS.

The Dollars and Cents

It’s helpful to understand more about how the Child Nutrition Services dining rooms operate, where funding comes from and the task CNS faces in feeding students in the 16th largest school district in the nation. Did you know…

  • WCPSS does not provide the funding to run the dining rooms in our schools. WCPSS cafeterias work on an enterprise fund basis so they need to be self-supporting.  As schools are built, the cafeterias are furnished with equipment paid for in the overall cost of the facility construction, but once that cafeteria moves into an operational status, none of the funding for the school lunches comes from WCPSS.
  • There are certain instances where the Wake County government may provide some funding to help support students in need, but they are not giving funding to support the daily operations of the school dining rooms in campuses countywide.
  • Funding received actually flows via reimbursement from the National School Lunch Program. North Carolina is one of very few states in the country for which the state legislature does not provide ANY supplement to the funding of the school lunch program.
  • That means that the funding for CNS comes from only two sources: 1) payment of lunch fees by students (and faculty or guests), and 2) a tiered system of reimbursements from the federal government through the National School Lunch Program to help offset some operating costs.
  • Led by Director Dr. Lynn Harvey, the NC Department of Public Instruction Child Nutrition Services Section provides support, guidance, and accountability for child nutrition programs throughout the state. Exploring DPI’s Child Nutrition Division website is a great way to become familiar with facts and figures about school lunches in Wake County.

Given the lack of funding provided at the state level for school cafeterias, advocacy efforts to improve lunches further in Wake County need to happen at the state legislature and/or federal level. The North Carolina PTA advocates for healthy school lunches, and the National PTA organized initially around the need to provide hot lunches for school children.

Making an Impact Locally

At the local level, school staff, parents and PTAs have a tremendous opportunity to support healthy foods at school by incorporating healthy foods and/or physical activity into classroom celebrations and hosting fundraisers that do not include unhealthy foods. The Alliance for a Healthier Generation offers a variety of resources on Smart Snacks, fundraisers, classroom celebrations and non-food rewards.

Final USDA Rules for Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act

Smart Snacks picLast month the USDA announced four final rules that implement important provisions of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) building on the progress schools across the country have already made in the improved nutritional quality of meals served in schools. According to USDA, the rules will ensure that children have access to healthy snacks and that nutrition standards for the foods marketed and served in schools are consistent. The rules also will promote integrity across the school meals programs.

The Smart Snacks in School final rule aligns the nutritional quality of snacks sold to children during the school day with the science-based improvements made to school lunches and breakfasts over the last five years. These include using practical, science-based nutrition standards that ensure children are offered more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. States have the flexibility to allow limited exemptions to school-sponsored fundraisers during the school day. The Smart Snacks standards were implemented in the 2014 – 2015 school year in accordance with the interim final rule. This final rule makes modest improvements to those standards based on public comments and lessons learned from implementation.

The Local School Wellness Policy final rule ensures that any food or beverage that is marketed on school campuses during the school day meets the Smart Snacks standards. According to a study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 70 percent of elementary and middle school students are exposed to some kind of food/beverage marketing through school. Many of the foods and beverages that are heavily marketed to children contribute to poor diet quality, high calorie intake, and excess weight gain. However, the majority of schools do not have policies restricting food and beverage marketing to children. This rule makes sure foods offered and marketed to students during the school day have consistent nutrition standards.

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