ND Organizers: Keep School Lunches Healthy
Wednesday, January 26, 2022
First in a two-part series this week on access to healthy school meals.
The pandemic has put a spotlight on food insecurity, including access to healthy meals in public schools.
In North Dakota, community organizers warn about possible changes to nutritional standards for these meals. Federal efforts continue for Child Nutrition Reauthorization, which is tied to the National School Lunch Program. Along the way, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., has pushed for relaxing standards, such as blocking reductions in sodium levels.
Courtney Schaff, a project manager under grant from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, is leading community organizers around the state to ensure higher nutrition standards are in place. She said there's research showing their effectiveness.
"Evidence-based nutrition standards in school meals has reduced the prevalence of childhood obesity and instances of diabetes," she said.
Her team is working with groups such as the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition to build support for higher standards and healthy meal access. Under the Obama administration, a phased-in approach was implemented to make school lunches more nutritious, but recent years have seen attempts to roll back the changes. Some have argued the healthier standards have been difficult to implement, and that less-tasty meals could hinder participation in school-lunch programs.
With the pandemic exacerbating food insecurity for tribal communities, said fellow organizer Melanie Moniz, a member of the MHA Nation, now isn't the time to make school meals less healthy. For many Indigenous families she works with, she said the program is a lifeline.
"The meals that children receive in school are the only access that they have to healthy, nutritious food," she said.
Groups such as Prairie Action have joined organizers in calling for current standards to either be maintained or strengthened. Hoeven's office has said his efforts still allow for healthy meals but give more flexibility to administrators.
Aside from providing more nutrition for kids, researchers who looked at healthy meal consumption in California schools found a connection to improved academic performance.
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