By HELEN IDZOREK
Living Well Los Alamos
Every October schools across the country participate in National School Lunch Week celebrations, reminding students, parents and communities that a healthy school lunch helps students learn, grow and achieve.
In recent years, NSLW also has been an opportunity for schools to promote the exciting, healthy changes that have come about as the result of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010, such as school gardens, salad bars and farm-to-table partnerships.
Today, 99 percent of schools report successfully meeting the new meal standards and participation rates are rebounding to pre-HHFKA levels, in part because of programs like these.
According to Farm to Table New Mexico (www.farmtotablenm.org), almost 82 percent of New Mexico’s students are eligible for a free or reduced lunch, and more than 1 in 4 children in the state are considered food insecure. In addition, they estimate that only 25 percent of New Mexico’s children eat just three servings of fruits or vegetables per day.
Increasing the number of farm-to- school and school garden programs is not only a wonderful opportunity for students to try more fresh local foods, they also are a good way for local farmers and gardeners to have a positive impact on child nutrition while simultaneously expanding their markets. Small farmers who are interested in selling to schools can utilize the NMSU Cooperative Extension Service’s farmer development resources (http://www.farmtotablenm.org/programs/farmer-development).
According to the New Mexico Legislature in their 2013 brochure “NM Grown Produce for School Meals”, farm-to-school programming is on the rise across the state:
- 56 percent of school districts in New Mexico have purchased locally-grown product in the last year;
- 26 percent of school districts in the state offer Farm-to-School Educational programs to their students; and
- 19 percent of school districts in New Mexico are purchasing locally-grown product to serve in cafeterias, as well as Farm-to-School Educational programs in the classroom.
In the recent USDA Farm-to-School Census, the USDA surveyed more than 18,000 school districts and approximately 70 percent of districts responded; the results for New Mexico revealed that 34 percent of respondents say they participate in farm-to-school activities, which translates to about 505 schools in 40 districts, reaching 263,767 students; an additional sixteen percent of respondents reported that their districts planned to start farm-to-school activities in the near future.
Other statistics revealed by the survey include:
- In addition to school lunch, New Mexico local foods are also being served at breakfast, supper and snack time;
- 30 percent of schools have a Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program; and
- Local foods don’t just mean fresh produce! New Mexico students also are consuming local dairy (30 percent) and meat or poultry (7 percent) during school meals.
This year’s National School Lunch Week theme is “Show Your Spirit!” School lunches are healthier than ever, and NSLW helps schools showcase the fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and unique dishes that keep their students fueled and ready to learn. Does your child’s school serve local New Mexico foods?
Visit your school’s website or call their child nutrition department for more details on National School Lunch Week and Farm-to- School efforts in your area. In October, show your spirit—and support—for your child’s school nutrition program by encouraging them to participate in their school’s National School Lunch Week celebration.
Contributed by Christina Uticone, Communications Consultant, School Nutrition Foundation
Helen Idzorek is the Family and Consumer Sciences/4-H Agent for NMSU Cooperative Extension Service. She can be reached via email at email@example.com or at 505.662.2656. The Los Alamos County Cooperative Extension Service is located in the Community Building at 475 20th St, Suite A, Los Alamos, NM 87544.
Find them on facebook or visit their website at www.losalamosextension.nmsu.edu New Mexico State University is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and educator. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.