Wednesday, November 02, 2005

$6 billion for mystery meat?

Newsweek ran a great article yesterday on school lunches.

Here is one area where policy makers could do a great deal to improve the overall wellness of students (yes, test scores would probably go up, too, if kids ate better) but very few are doing anything.

A few facts from the article:

...[E]very day 54 million U.S. school children eat lunch. About 29 million of them participate in the National School Lunch Program, which costs the U.S. government $6 billion a year. (Of the 29 million kids, 14 million receive their lunch free and 3 million get it at a reduced price; the remaining 12 million pay for it.)

It's a big market, and the food industry has stepped in to provide a host of new options for parents and school systems...

But companies in the federal school lunch biz have to contend with strict nutritional and price restrictions. The federal government reimburses schools $2.32 for kids on the free-lunch program and $1.92 for kids on the reduced-price option. To subsidize healthy eating, the government also kicks in 22 cents per full-pay child, too.

That's not a lot of money with which to make inexpensive, mass-produced, healthy lunches that kids want to eat. And in an era in which more than 16 percent of kids are overweight or obese according to the Centers for Disease Control, there's ever more pressure for school lunch suppliers to provide healthy food.

It's a huge industry and one that, at least until now, has served the public very poorly. It appears that that might be changing.

One problem with the article: Newsweek didn't even mention the work of Jamie Oliver who has revolutionized the way British children eat at school. He's now working to do the same thing here.


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