The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 sought to establish a more nutritious approach to school lunches across the nation. During the years since it became law, schools have continued an evolution of meeting the stricter guidelines while still focusing on student satisfaction. It seems few schools have completely mastered the process, but some have established best practices. Let’s take a look at the issues at play and how they might be solved.
The main rules dictated by the HHFKA govern the nutritional and caloric requirements for school-provided breakfast, lunch, afterschool program snacks, and even vending machine contents. The focus is on teaching children to eat more fruits and vegetables as well as limiting the number of processed foods on each student’s plate. Part of the program encourages integration of locally sourced foods and those that come fresh from nearby providers. Chocolate milk is limited to nonfat, and white milk must be 1 percent. Increased access to drinking water is another mandate. Each school is responsible for putting together nutritional programs that teach students which foods are best and how to eat healthfully.
At first, getting traction for the transition proved challenging for many schools across the nation. Students balked at the smaller portion sizes and limited choices. Schools had to get creative with selling the concept to the kids. Some did that by getting students involved in creating menu options. Others planted gardens on their own grounds and taught students how to plant, grow, and harvest items for their meals. In some cases, schools were able to get grants that allowed them to upgrade their commercial kitchen equipment to cut down on food waste and to cook meals in a way that preserved more of the nutrients the foods contain.
In May 2014, the USDA released a report on the successes and failures of the HHFKA in its first few years of existence. The agency had polled schools across the nation and found that more children were eating breakfast at school, which can provide the foundation for better learning by helping kids be more able to focus on education and less on being hungry. Although students had balked at the changes early on, the report showed that they’d eventually come around to liking the new menus, especially when they could participate in growing the food. Most students are eating more fruits and vegetables on a daily basis, which the USDA counts as a win. Because many children don’t eat nutritional meals at home, the school is able to provide at least one balanced meal per day. Thousands of schools had upgraded kitchen equipment using the federal grants set aside for the effort. The report even showed additional income for schools as a result of buying efficiencies that came about as schools banded together for bulk ordering at discounted rates.
Although it has taken a few years, the HHFKA has made a difference in the lives of students and the mindset of educators. With additional support, instruction, and equipment, schools are more able to create an understanding about healthy eating in the minds of children.