Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Boys & Girls Club of Salem to Serve Fresh n' Local Lunches

Every day of the summer and every afternoon during the school year, the Boys & Girls Club of Salem, Marion & Polk Counties provides free lunch to children and youth throughout Salem and Keizer. For many of the youth, this may be the only substantial meal they receive during the summer or after school.

This year, the organization set a goal to have a meal program that provides fresh and healthy food as well as food and nutrition education. To meet their goal, the Boys & Girls Club is joining forces with Organic Fresh Fingers.

Leaders at the Club realized that their meal program didn't reflect the holistic approach that they strive for in all areas of their program, and decided it was time to make a change. “We wanted to offer our Club members meals that were filling and good for them and that would teach them what a balanced, nutritious meal looks and tastes like,” said Sue Bloom, Director of Operations. “The hot meals allow us to serve comfort food to the youth and replicate a family-style meal as they sit down and eat together.”

Organic Fresh Fingers, Inc. will provide a Fresh n' Local meal program to the Boys & Girls Club starting in September. Lunches will be hot, handmade entrees served with fresh, organic fruits and vegetables every day.

“I am very excited about getting hot meals in the fall because I really enjoyed the pot pie and am looking forward to eating some more,” said Tamra, a ten year old member of the Swegle Branch in Salem.

The program also includes a strong educational component, including an educational curriculum, field trips to local farms and orchards, and assisting with on-site gardens.

“We are most excited about the educational aspect of the program,” said Tim Sinatra, Executive Director of the Boys & Girls Club of Salem, Marion and Polk Counties. “We really wanted to take a 360 degree approach to meals and nutrition, and Organic Fresh Fingers is able to provide us the comprehensive program we are looking for.”

“We are delighted to partner with the Boys & Girls Club of Salem,” said CEO and President of Organic Fresh Fingers, Evann Remington. “It is our belief that every child should be able to eat fresh, healthy food, and we can't wait to start serving the Boys & Girls Club. We're looking forward to taking the youth on field trips to local farms and teaching them about healthy food choices.”

The Boys & Girls Club serves approximately 10,500 youth in Marion and Polk Counties through their Clubs, athletics, and outreach programs. Last year, the Clubs served 81,730 meals and snacks. All youth from first to twelfth grade are welcome to become a member.

Organic Fresh Fingers, Inc. works with schools, non-profit organizations and childcare facilities to provide fresh, local, natural and organic hot lunch programs.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hiring Sous Chef and Kitchen Assistants

Organic Fresh Fingers is hiring! We're currently looking for one sous chef and two kitchen assistants. A short job description of each position is below. If interested, please submit a resume, references and cover letter to alexis@organicfreshfingers.com. Please call 503-371-1108 if you have any questions.

Sous Chef: Full-Time, Hourly Position, Start immediately

The Sous Chef will serve as an assistant to Organic Fresh Fingers' chef. Sous chef will assist chef with preparation of all entrees. Sous chef will also assist with research and development, and help to direct kitchen staff. Must have or obtain current food handlers card. The interview process will include a cooking demonstration to display knife skills, cooking ability, and ability to quickly and carefully follow directions. Food service experience is required. USDA certifications in CACFP and NSLP preferred, but not necessary. Must have or obtain current food handlers card.

Kitchen Assistants: 2 Full Time Positions Available, Hourly Position, Start Date in August

Food Preparation staff will work in the kitchen to assist the chef and sous chef with all aspects of food prep, including cleaning, preparing and packaging of fruits and vegetables. Will assist with general cleaning and maintenance of kitchen area. Must have or obtain current food handlers card. Food service experience is preferred.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

15,000 restaurants order healthy new kids meals

USA Today.com; By Nanci Hellmich

Hold the fries and pass the carrot sticks.

Beginning today, kids will find some cool new choices on their restaurant menus — choices that will make their parents happy, too.

More than 15,000 restaurants in the USA representing 19 chains, including Burger King, Cracker Barrel, Chili's, Denny's and IHOP, are participating in a voluntary new initiative called Kids LiveWell.

It's being unveiled today by the National Restaurant Association and Healthy Dining, the company that runs healthydiningfinder.com.

Many meals that fit into the program will carry an icon of a red apple. They must include an entree, side dish and beverage and contain 600 calories or less, plus meet other nutritional criteria. Some meals that meet the guidelines:

•Burger King's breakfast muffin sandwich with fresh apple fries (slices) and fat-free milk.

•Corner Bakery Cafe's half turkey sandwich served on harvest bread, with a side of baby carrots, fruit medley and low-fat milk.

•Cracker Barrel's kids' chicken n' dumplings with organic apple juice.

These and other meals "meet the gold standard in terms of nutritional content," says Anita Jones-Mueller, founder of Healthy Dining.

"Kids can eat french fries, hamburgers and fried foods some of the time when they are eating out, but not all the time."

Some restaurants have only a couple of kids' meals that meet the criteria now, but they are working on developing more, Jones-Mueller says.

Dawn Sweeney, president of the National Restaurant Association, says the group is planning to expand the program to thousands more restaurants in the coming weeks.

Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest says offering healthier kids' meals at restaurants is important because children are getting about a third of their calories from eating out, and eating out is a big contributor to obesity. "Kids' meals have become synonymous with junk. They are usually a hamburger, a slice of pizza or fried chicken tenders with a side of french fries and a soda.

"We need to get to the point that the kids' meals are the healthiest meals, because kids are growing and developing and forming eating habits that are going to affect their health for the rest of their lives."

Find Kids LiveWell meals on healthydiningfinder.com.

"This is an exciting beginning for parents who eat out a lot. This is opening the door to much healthier cuisine.

"This (program) is just going to make it easier to eat healthy when you eat out, and for those of us who eat out a lot that's an important for living a healthy lifestyle," she says.

"Almost every restaurant we talked moved very quickly to identify foods that meet the criteria, and some modified their menu items to meet the nutrient guidelines," Jones-Mueller says.

The meals that qualify were reviewed by a team of registered dietitians from Healthy Dining.

Restaurants can get kids excited about eating healthfully, and letting them enjoy the fresh, healthful taste of foods.

What Makes a Healthy Kids' Meal?

Meals in the Kids LiveWell program must meet the following nutrition criteria:
-- 600 calories or less
And less than:
-- 35% calories from fat
-- 10% calories from saturated fat
-- 0.5 grams trans fat
-- 35% of calories from sugar
-- 770 milligrams sodium

Among the restaurant chains participating in the Kids LiveWell program:

•Au Bon Pain

•Bonefish Grill

•Burger King


•Carrabba's Italian Grill


•Chili's Grill & Bar Restaurant

•Corner Bakery Cafe

•Cracker Barrel


•El Pollo Loco



•Joe's Crab Shack

•Outback Steakhouse

•Silver Diner


•T-Bones Great

•American Eatery

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Family Meals Remain Important Through Teen Years, Expert Says

One aspect of our Fresh n' Local meal program is the emphasis on replicating family-style meals for childcare centers. We strongly believe that there are numerous benefits that come from sitting down at a table and eating a hot meal together. Science Daily recently published an article that outlines the benefits of families eating dinner together.

ScienceDaily (July 12, 2011)
— As children become teenagers, it may be more challenging to regularly include them in family meals, but doing so is key to heading off such problems as eating disorders, obesity, and inadequate nutrition in adolescence, said Barbara Fiese, a University of Illinois professor of human development and family studies and director of the U of I's Family Resiliency Center.

"The common belief is that teens don't want to be around their parents very much, and that teens are just too busy for regular meals with the family," she said. "Parents may not be able to get their families together around the table seven days a week, but if they can schedule three family meals a week, they will safeguard their teens' health in significant ways."

She advises family members to pull out their schedules and find out which nights they can commit to, then follow through and make family meals on those nights a priority.

In the June issue of Pediatrics, Fiese and postdoctoral research associate Amber Hammons reviewed 17 recent studies on eating patterns and nutrition involving more than 182,000 children and adolescents.

The results showed that teens who eat at least five meals a week with their families are 35 percent less likely to engage in disordered eating than teens who don't. The researchers defined disordered eating as binging and purging, taking diet pills, self-induced vomiting, using laxatives or diuretics, fasting, eating very little, skipping meals, and/or smoking cigarettes to lose weight.

"For children and adolescents with disordered eating, mealtime provides a setting in which parents can recognize early signs and take steps to prevent detrimental patterns from turning into full-blowing eating disorders," she said.

Children who ate at least three family meals a week were also 12 percent less likely to be overweight than those who ate with their families less often. And they were 24 percent more likely to eat healthy foods and have healthy eating habits than those who didn't share three meals with their families.

The researcher said that families who share meals together are likely to be more connected, which may encourage teens to talk within their families about unhealthy behaviors they've slipped into and other problems they're experiencing.

"If you look at national surveys, the frequency of shared mealtimes does begin to drop off in the teen years, but a lot of that is due to competing demands on teenagers' time due to after-school activities, jobs, and social life, and not for lack of interest," she said.

The study showed that teens are interested in participating in family mealtimes and believe that they eat healthier when they share meals with their families, she said.

According to the expert, research on adolescent development indicates that teens want to stay connected with their parents. "Family meals give them a place where they can go regularly to check in with their parents and express themselves freely," she said.

"If family meals are not a forced activity, if parents don't totally control the conversation, and if teens can contribute to family interaction and feel like they're benefiting from it, older kids are likely to welcome participating," she added.

If you've gotten out of the family meal habit and don't relish the prospect of receiving one-word answers from your teenagers (Q: What happened at school today? A: nothing), Fiese and her colleagues have compiled some conversation starters for both English- and Spanish-speaking families.

Here's one: If you won a million dollars, what would you do with it and why?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Salem-Keizer School District closes down Summer Meal Sites

Many people aren't aware of the Summer Food Service Program, which allows organizations to provide free meals to children in areas where at lease 50 percent of children qualify for free or reduced school lunches. Recently, Organic Fresh Fingers has begun to serve non-profit organizations the food for these Summer Meal Sites. Our goal is to open more of these sites throughout Salem & Keizer. There is a huge need for more of these sites, as only 12% of children who qualify are participating.

The Statesman Journal recently published an article about the Salem Keizer School District Food Services, which is run by Sodexo, a multi-national institutional food service company, being "forced" to close down half of its summer meal sites. And of the remaining 13 sites, only five serve meals all summer. The reason cited for shutting down these sites is because of budget restrictions.

Organic Fresh Fingers has created an innovative way to not only service summer meal sites in a cost-effective way, but also provide higher quality meals, including handmade entrees and organic produce. We refuse to accept the fact that children should go hungry during the summer. It absolutely is financially feasible, and Organic Fresh Fingers is doing it!

Below is an excerpt from the Statesman Journal article. To read the entire article, click here.

The National School Lunch Program, through free and reduced-price meals, ensures that children of low-income families don't have to learn on an empty stomach.

And the Summer Food Service Program picks up where the school year leaves off, feeding kids free meals in areas where at least 50 percent of children participate in the school lunch program.

But last year, only 12 percent of Marion County's children who participated in the school lunch program during the school year received summer meals.

That ranks the county 31st out of the 32 counties in the state that have summer meals programs, according to a Partners for Hunger-Free Oregon analysis...

The participation rate for the Salem-Keizer School District — where 22,684 students out of 39,459 ate free or reduced-price lunches in May — was slightly lower than that of the county, at 11 percent.

This year, the district has cut its summer meal sites by almost half, citing budget cuts, construction at some locations and low participation in others as reasons for reducing the number of meal sites to 13.

Just five of those are serving meals all summer, and three of them have yet to begin.

...Lynne Reinoso, manager of the Summer Food Service Program for the state Department of Education, said the number of the district's sites is concerning.

"It's definitely a problem," she said. "It would be nice if they could increase it."

Teresa White, branch director of the Swegle Boys & Girls Club, said she has seen an increase in the number of meals served at her location this summer.

Instead of the 65 meals per day the branch served last summer, it is now serving about 85 kids per day, she said. Still, she doesn't believe her location is reaching every child in need in the neighborhood.

"I think there's more to be fed, especially since they closed a lot of those sites," White said. "I think it's more of a transportation issue of getting those kids to this site."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Salem Loan Program Creates Growth Opportunities for Local Businesses

Organic Fresh Fingers and Wandering Aengus Ciderworks Awarded Funds

(Monday, June 27, 2011) – Salem, OR – The City of Salem recently launched an innovative loan program designed to foster small business growth and create local jobs – the Fairview Urban Renewal Area (URA) Small Business Pilot Loan Program. Organic Fresh Fingers, a Salem-based food processing company that provides local organic meals to schools and corporate child care facilities, and Wandering Aengus Ciderworks, a national leader in the emerging artisan cider industry, are the first companies to be awarded funds from Salem's newest loan program.

“The City is happy to welcome Organic Fresh Fingers and Wandering Aengus Ciderworks to the Fairview Urban Renewal Area,” said Salem Mayor Anna Peterson. “We look forward to these companies, and future recipients of this loan, growing and creating further job opportunities in Salem.”

Salem’s Fairview URA is located east of the Salem Municipal Airport and south of Madrona. The Small Business Pilot Loan Program originated as an innovative approach to aid qualified local businesses in their expansion efforts, benefit the residents of Salem, and satisfy the financial objective of the URA plan. The interest rate, term, and optional deferred payment are intended to assist businesses with their expansion transition and give them incentive to immediately grow new jobs for eligibility for up to 70% loan forgiveness. As part of the University of Oregon Sustainable Cities Initiative, Community Planning Workshop graduate students conducted research and identified specialty food and beverage manufacturing, among other industries, as a growing opportunity in Salem.

Organic Fresh Fingers and Wandering Aengus Ciderworks, are working with Wildwood Inc., a Salem-based sustainable development company with thirty years experience planning and developing sustainable projects in Oregon, to expand their operations through the conversion of an existing warehouse into an energy efficient commercial kitchen and Ciderhouse. All three companies are committed to sustainable practices, creating local jobs, and adding value to Northwest-grown products.

With the loan from the Urban Renewal Agency of Salem, Organic Fresh Fingers, Inc. will build out a 6,000 square foot food manufacturing facility located at 4070 Fairview Drive in Salem. The construction will include converting the building to “food grade” specifications and the purchase of equipment to increase production and distribution of the Organic Fresh Fingers meal program. The company will also install a solar photovoltaic system, allowing them to utilize a renewable source of energy for production.

“When I started making meals for children from our small (1,460 sq. ft.) kitchen, I couldn't have hoped for faster growth than what Organic Fresh Fingers has experienced,” said Evann Remington, President and CEO of Organic Fresh Fingers. “We are currently operating out of a 2,000 sq. ft. space, and are bursting at the seams. We are excited and grateful for the Urban Renewal Loan Program. With the loan, we will be able to triple our production space, allowing us to fulfill increasing requests for our products. With the increase in production capacity, we are looking forward to hiring several new employees, further stimulating the City's economy.”

Thursday, June 16, 2011

No More Chocolate Milk in LA Schools!

According to the LA Times, the LAUSD has decided to stop providing flavored milk in schools. We are very excited to see this change in such a large public school district. We don't provide any flavored milk to the schools we serve, and the myths about kids not drinking milk or eating lunch are just not true. There's no reason to continue serving our children milk that has as much sugar as a soda in it on a daily basis.

According to the paper:

"The L.A. Unified School District Board of Education on Tuesday voted to stop providing chocolate or strawberry-flavored milk in school cafeterias as of July 1.

The move makes L.A. the largest school system in the nation to pull flavored milks out of schools and is part of a larger push to make the food served at school more nutritious. L.A. Unified earlier banned sodas sales at schools.

The district's new superintendent, John Deasy, said plain milk is a healthier option. Parents and some activists have long wanted the district to stop serving flavored milk, which has more sugar than plain milk.

About 60% of the cartons of milk that kids consume each day are flavored, and some people are worried that without it kids won't eat school lunch at all. The district gets federal funding through reimbursements for meals served.

Eliminating flavored milk "is a big deal," said Megan Bomba, a project coordinator at Occidental College's Urban and Environmental Policy Institute and a school food reform advocate.

"If they succeed, no other district will have an excuse," she said Tuesday morning."

To read the full story, visit the Los Angeles Times website.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fed Up With Lunch!

We're big fans of Mrs. Q's blog "Fed Up with Lunch: The School Lunch Project." Mrs. Q is a public school teacher. In 2010, she decided to eat school lunch every day, just like her students do.

You can read all about her experience, her reviews of school lunch, and her thoughts on how to improve it on her blog. We encourage you to take a look if you're interested in school lunch, how you can help to improve it, and what some better options are when packing a lunch for you or your kids.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Is There Too Much Regulation Around School Lunch?

We appreciated this article from the Huffington Post about new school lunch regulation, and why it's a good thing.

Our children face a devastating obesity crisis -- and yet some Washington lawmakers are calling even the most commonsense moves to ensure them a healthier diet a "classic nanny-state overreach."

Really? Let's look at what these simple, straightforward federal efforts actually do.

For instance, the first meaningful overhaul of school nutrition guidelines in 15 years would cut sodium in subsidized lunches by more than half, encourage more whole grains and serve low-fat milk. They also would limit kids to a single cup of starchy vegetables (read: French fries) per week. Is that terrible?

But that's not the only part of the Michelle Obama-backed healthy food movement that offends these regulation foes.

The very same politicians who have made a career of calling for a free and open marketplace of ideas want to limit the amount of information kids (and parents) can get about their food. Calorie counts on menus have been a proven boon for families who want to cut out hidden fat, sugar and salt from their diet -- but Republican lawmakers say that providing even this basic information on menus and at food stores is "back-door regulation."

This argument isn't just fodder for political shouting matches in Washington, though. These efforts have real consequences for the millions of children facing obesity and obesity-related diseases.

Today, one in six American kids is obese, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center to Prevent Childhood Obesity. And the problem is getting worse.

In the past three decades, the obesity rate among teenagers (aged 12-19) has more than tripled (from 4.9% to 18.1%). The rise is even visible among the very young. During that same time period, obesity rates have doubled among kids aged 2 to 5 (from 5% to 10.4%).

The long-term health consequences of this crisis are real, too. Researchers estimate that one out of every three boys and two out of every five girls born in the United States in the year 2000 will be diagnosed with diabetes. More than 100,000 children suffer from asthma every year because of their weight. And if current adolescent obesity rates continue, by 2035 there will be more than 100,000 additional cases of coronary heart disease attributable to obesity.

The crisis is real -- and we need to get serious about dealing with it.

-Angela Glover Blackwell, HuffingtonPost.com.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Organic Fresh Fingers is Hiring a Delivery Driver

Organic Fresh Fingers, Inc. is HIRING a Delivery Driver!

We are hiring a delivery driver ASAP. You will need to be available to begin work on June 20. This is a part-time position during the summer, with a possibility to turn into full-time when school starts again in the fall. Driver needs to be available Mondays & Thursdays.

Please contact us if you are interested. Email resume to alexis@organicfreshfingers.com and/or call 503-371-1108.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

USDA Introduces MyPlate

The UDSA recently replaced the Food Pyramid with MyPlate. And it looks like they got it right this time.

We were pleased to see how well this illustration reflects what our Fresh n' Local lunches look like. Half of your meal should be fruits & vegetables, and the protein should be the smallest serving on your plate.

You can visit ChooseMyPlate.gov to learn more about the new dietary guidelines, or download a .pdf of the guidelines.

According to the USDA, MyPlate is designed to highlight the following points:

Balancing Calories

Enjoy your food, but eat less.

Avoid oversized portions.

Foods to Increase

Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.

Make at least half your grains whole grains.

Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.

Foods to Reduce

Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals and choose the foods with lower numbers.

Drink water instead of sugary drinks.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Battle Over Chocolate Milk

I'm sure that you're aware of the great chocolate milk debate that's taking place in school districts across the country. It's also being debated at a national level, as lawmakers decide whether chocolate milk should be removed from the National School Lunch Program. We appreciated how clearly Donald F. Kettl, a columnist for GOVERNING, explains the debate in the article below. Organic Fresh Fingers is pleased to say that none of our schools or childcare facilities serve chocolate milk!

One of my fondest memories from kindergarten was the treat of a couple of graham crackers and chocolate milk served in a waxy paperboard container. In those days, primary school was mostly about helping kids learn how to spend half a day away from mom. Milk was an important bait, luring us into the world of education.

A lot’s changed since then. Kindergarten is now a serious educational venture. Kids make big steps in reading instead of having See Spot Run read to them, and they learn how to write instead of coloring elephants with giant crayons. Chocolate milk too, has changed. It’s now at the center of an enormous policy battle regarding school lunches.

Some school districts have banned flavored milk completely. In Florida, the battle has become white-hot. The State Board of Education campaigned to pull chocolate milk out of lunchrooms, as part of its ongoing effort to eliminate sugared sodas and high-calorie desserts. When the board turned to flavored milk, opposition from the dairy industry flared. Big business was at stake -- in 2010, the state’s four largest school districts spent $13 million on flavored milk, and students downed 49 million half-pints of the chocolate version.

State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam countered the board’s efforts by trying to pull decisions about cafeteria food into his office. But Board of Education member Roberto Martinez fired back, “We have to put the kids first, not the agriculture industry first -- period. End of story.”

So how does taking much-loved chocolate milk out of school cafeterias put kids first? Two words: fat and calories. The standard half-pint serving of low-fat milk has 102 calories, of which 21 come from fat. Chocolate milk has more than twice the calories (226) and almost four times as many calories from fat (78). With childhood obesity reaching epidemic levels, public health groups have pressed school districts to switch to lower-calorie options.

Following on the heels of the wildly popular “Got Milk?” ads, the dairy industry promoted a “Raise your hands for chocolate milk” campaign. In Boulder, Colo., chef Ann Cooper, a self-styled “renegade lunch lady,” says the campaign has more to do with selling milk than promoting nutrition.

In April, Fairfax County, Va., schools reversed their chocolate milk ban after an avalanche of protests from disappointed students -- and concerned nutritionists, who argued that chocolate milk is an important way to get vitamin D and calcium into the diets of nutritionally challenged children. Interestingly, Fairfax’s new chocolate milk is low-fat and contains sucrose instead of high-fructose corn syrup. Some critics of the old chocolate milk say the switch is healthier because sucrose is less heavily processed. Others say that sugar is sugar and it doesn’t make much difference how it comes into the diet. The Corn Refiners Association shares that opinion -- and a concern that it not lose the big chocolate milk market.

The feds have found themselves squarely in the middle of this intense battle. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, along with the Department of Health and Human Services, reinvented the food pyramid to help Americans make healthier choices, and especially to help reduce the fat and calories in the diets of youngsters. Meanwhile, the National Milk Processor Board, which created the “Got Milk?” campaign, works under the USDA’s umbrella as part of its mission to promote dairy products. The department’s National School Lunch Program provides subsidized meals and snacks for less-affluent children. It calls for schools to serve milk, and chocolate is OK.

Is it the USDA’s policy to promote good nutrition, low-fat milk, chocolate milk or milk production in general, regardless of flavor? One way or another, the answer is yes, to all four. Then there’s first lady Michelle Obama’s campaign for child nutrition, and Rep. Michele Bachmann’s charge that the first lady is trying to roll out a “nanny state.” Bachmann castigated the nutrition campaign in telling talk radio host and Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham that “For them, government is the answer to every problem.”

One blogger at the San Francisco Chronicle simply told other readers, “You couldn’t get me to drink school milk as a child. If it was chocolate, I’m sure it would have been different! It’s like an adult at Starbucks ... even kids need a little vice!”

But this little vice, if that’s what it is, has become a very big battle. Fairfax’s Penny McConnell, who directs the district’s food and nutrition services, says that before the district reversed its decision she received 10 to 20 e-mails a day contending that students liked the drink and it supplied essential nutrients to help growing kids grow strong bones. “It was a lot of pressure.”

Since 1946, milk has been a cornerstone of the federal school lunch program. Little did its sponsors back in the Truman administration realize that their plan to bring better nutrition to the nation’s children would erupt into such a deep moral, scientific, economic and political battle, involving everyone from renegade lunch ladies to first ladies. It makes me long for a few sips of soothing snacks and a nap on the blanket I used to store in my kindergarten cubby.

To Read the Original Article, please visit GOVERNING.com.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Higher Prices for School Lunch?

With the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, you may have noticed quite a few news articles about the price of lunch increasing. That is because the bill mandates that the price of student lunches gradually be brought up to the National School Lunch Program's reimbursement rate for free lunches - which is currently $2.72.

Effective July 1, 2011, Section 205 of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 requires school food authorities participating in the National School Lunch Program to gradually increase paid meal prices to equal the USDA reimbursement for a free student meal or provide non-federal funding to cover the difference. The USDA requires a minimum increase of 5 cents for the 2011-2012 school year.

This will be a big change. Most schools are still charging $1.50 - $2.00 per lunch. Parents will have to get used to the idea of school lunch costing more. Over the next five years, schools will be continually raising lunch prices until they reach the reimbursement rate.

The idea behind raising the reimbursement rate is to allow for higher quality, healthier foods to be served in schools. The bill also mandates that school lunch programs be non-profit. Hopefully, as schools increase the revenue brought in from lunch, they will also increase the quality of lunches.

Organic Fresh Fingers is ahead of the curve. Although our lunches cost more per meal than most schools currently charge, we use that extra money to provide fresh, local, natural and organic food to children. One of our biggest barriers is convincing school officials that parents will pay more for lunch if the quality of the lunch improves. As schools around the country raise their rates, we hope that more schools will consider Organic Fresh Fingers as an option.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Oregon Farm to School Act Could Bring More Local Food to Schools

As farms continue to pump out locally produced and processed goods and school children continue to wolf down cafeteria lunches, it’s a curious conundrum that more food doesn’t pass directly from local producers into the school systems. In Lane County, the Willamette Farm and Food Coalition and other local organizations have been addressing this issue for the past several years. With a mission to strengthen the local economy, benefit public health and support local food producers, WFFC has been promoting farm to school connections, becoming a leader in the region and the National Farm to School Network‘s State Lead Agency for Oregon. Now, with a current bill pending review by Oregon’s House of Representatives, the potential exists to strengthen that connection even more.

House Bill 2800, known as the Oregon Farm to School Act, is sponsored by Rep. Brian Clem (D-Sa lem) and Tina Kotek (D-Portland). Clem has been pushing Farm to School connections since 2007, and his proposals have resulted in the creation of two positions: one in the Department of Agriculture and one in the Department of Education, both devoted to working with schools to incorporate more locally grown food into their nutrition programs.

The current bill would use grant money to reimburse school districts up to 15 cents per meal for food produced or processed in Oregon. Current funding for Oregon school lunches comes from the National School Lunch Program, with Oregon being one of the few states that doesn’t help pay for meals. Reimbursements must also be spent on Oregon food, thus continuing the cycle. Grants will also be made available to assist in school garden programs, with the potential for incorporating school produce into the lunch program as well.

The original draft of HB 2800 demanded $22 million in state funding, but has since been dramatically reduced. HB 2800 is now vying for $2 million from state Economic Development Funds. In part, the reduction means that grants will be awarded on a competitive basis to qualifying schools throughout Oregon. Originally, the measure was introduced to assist all school districts in the state, but with the budget shortfall these funds will only be available to a select few. Eligibility will likely depend on several factors: schools may be required to have a certain percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch, and districts that receive grant money may also need to show that they will be able to integrate the local foods offered with an educational component for students.

Megan Kemple of Willamette Farm and Food Coalition believes that the three districts currently working with WFFC are well poised to take advantage of these funds. WFFC has already created an active Farm to School Program within the Bethel, Eugene 4J, and Springfield school districts, and has established connections with many growers and food producers in the region, providing the framework to make further improvements to the school lunch program. In addition, a high percentage of students in these districts qualify for free or reduced lunch. The educational component of the program should also count as big points for these districts. WFFC has created a comprehensive educational program that includes lessons about where our food comes from, farm field trips, harvest meals where students prepare freshly harvested farm foods, school garden sessions, nutrition lessons, and tasting tables offering fresh produce from recently visited farms. The school garden sessions are done in collaboration with the School Garden Project of Lane County, and “garden-based nutrition education” is implemented with the help of Oregon State University’s Nutrition Education Program.


Randy Henderson of Thistledown Farm says his farm could feed every child in Eugene if the schools had the funds to pay for it. With 500 acres in production, it’s not a matter of supply; the problem is that produce is often cheaper to buy from Mexico than it is from local farms. Another issue is the lack of local processors since AgriPac left town, which happened in part because the row crops (corns, beans, beets, carrots, etc) of the Willamette Valley have all gone to grass seed production. Much local produce is grown during the summer months when children aren’t in school. Thistledown, however, has been able to sell products such as frozen strawberries to schools during the winter and spring months. For Henderson, nutrition is still one of the biggest factors in supporting Farm to School programs. If schools were able to buy more produce, his farm would be able to keep up with demand.

For Roger Detering of Detering Orchards, supplying schools with produce is “part of doing good business, and provides a good outlet for smaller apples that the kids enjoy.” He also says that if schools were able to purchase more local foods, he would be able to supply them with more produce. Both farmers support the program, but worry that timing is unfortunate for such a bill to pass.

The Farm to School bill has received vast local support. It passed unanimously through its last phase in the legislative process, and is favored by local farmers, food producers, schools, and organizations like WFFC and the School Garden Project. It is also predicted to be an economic boon as well. Agricultural economist Bruce Sorte with Oregon State University estimates the $2 million would create 24 jobs in the first year as the demand for local food products goes up. Kemple points out that is not so much a matter of opposition to the bill as it is simply finding the funds in Oregon’s dwindling budget to support the program.

According to a progress report from the Oregon Farm to School and School Garden Policy Workgroup, the bill has passed unanimously out of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and will go to the Ways and Means Committee before it reaches the House floor. It will be assigned to a sub-committee (most likely Natural Resources) before moving into the full Ways and Means and then out onto the House floor. Because of other budget decision-making, HB 2800 will probably not be addressed for a couple more weeks. Kemple is hopeful that the bill will pass, but concerned that the state’s budget is so limited. -eugenedailynews.com

To read more, please visit Eugenedailynews.com.

Monday, May 2, 2011

"Lunch Line" Documentary Trailer

Six high-school kids from one of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods set out to fix the federal school lunch program and end up at the White House in “Lunch Line,” a documentary film examining the program’s past, present and possible future.

Begun in 1946, the National School Lunch Program today feeds more than 31 million children daily. It is a huge, complex and slow to change bureaucracy, with nutritional choices increasingly under attack. “Lunch Line” depicts leaders from all sides of the school-food debate, including government officials, school food service experts, activists and students, discussing the program and ways of nourishing America’s children.

DVD's are now available at http://lunchlinefilm.com/.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Lobbyists, myths and outdated thinking hold back lunch programs

We really appreciated this Op-Ed from USA Today. One challenge Organic Fresh Fingers faces when we talk to schools about healthier lunch is the myth that it is impossible to provide healthier foods without losing money. School administrators are constantly telling us that kids won't eat healthier foods and that parents won't pay more for school lunch. Both of these statements are totally untrue. Children will eat food that is good tasting and good for them. And parents will pay more if the food is worth the price.

USA Today Editorial:

A typical lunch last year in the Adams 14 school district outside Denver featured chicken nuggets or a breaded chicken sandwich on a white-bread bun, french fries or Tater Tots, and a salad of iceberg lettuce and carrot shavings that came out of a bag. Parents and students across the country will recognize the menu from their own school cafeterias.

This week, though, Adams 14 is serving "turkey American subs" on whole wheat, roasted cauliflower, herb roasted potatoes, a fresh tossed salad and fresh fruit. Chocolate milk and fried potatoes have been banished. Most remarkably, the district, in a low-income industrial suburb, is feeding its 7,630 students for about the same money it spent last year.

While Adams and scores of other districts across the nation are proving that innovative thinking and strategies can improve school menus, the powers that be in Washington are waging food fights.

Last year, Congress took a big step toward combating child obesity and improving children's health when it passed new mandates for the federal school lunch and breakfast program. (Under the $11.5 billion program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reimburses local districts for free and reduced-price meals at 100,000 schools. Students who don't qualify for subsidized meals pay rates set locally.)

Now, USDA is writing the program's new rules, and interests on all sides are pushing their agendas, some attempting to undo what Congress intended. For example, the National Potato Council wants — surprise! — more potatoes in school meals, while the proposed rules call for far less. The School Nutrition Association, which represents school food directors, argues that the districts can't meet some of the new standards without more money and more time. This ignores the fact that there is no more money, and delay is the enemy when it comes to childhood nutrition.

All the players would do better keeping Congress' mandates in place and looking to the schools that are already doing it right. ...

In Burlington, Vt., food director Doug Davis runs his program "like a business." The district charges paying high school students $2.50 for lunch, close to the federal reimbursement rate for free lunches. Many districts give discounted meals to students who can afford to pay more, undermining the program's goals. ...

It's true that school districts, especially in poor communities, face daunting challenges in providing nutritious food. But often, myths and outdated thinking hold them back more than lack of money or time.

Cynthia Veney, the food director at Adams 14, says everybody told her if she got rid of chicken nuggets, the students would revolt. It didn't happen.

To read more, please visit USAToday.com

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

New USDA School Lunch Changes

As most of you are aware, the recently passed Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 included a mandate for healthier regulations on food being served under the National School Lunch Program. The USDA just came out with their proposed changes, and will be seeking public comment once they release the official policy. Below are some of the proposed changes:

Highlighted USDA School Lunch Changes From the Federal Register

  • Fruit requirements will go from ½ cup to 1 cup at breakfast.
  • Fruit and vegetable requirements will go from 1 to 1 ½ cups together to ¾ to 1 cup fruits and ½ to 1 cup vegetables at lunch.
  • Grain requirements will double and whole grains will be emphasized.
  • New requirements will include specific vegetables like dark leafy greens, orange vegetables, and legumes as well as a limit on starchy vegetables.
  • Full fat and low fat milk will no longer be offered.
  • Whole grains will be implemented in a staged manner as to adjust to the taste buds of students.
  • Meat alternatives will also be offered as main dishes including tofu.
  • Calorie levels for lunch will be limited to 550 to 650 for grades K through 5, 600 to 700 for grades 6 through 8, and 750 to 850 for grades 9 through 12.
    - planetgreen.com
The good news is that Organic Fresh Fingers' Fresh n' Local meal program already meets most if not all of these new requirements. And with the extra six cent per meal increase that was included in the bill, our meal program will be more affordable for public school districts, head starts, and other publicly funded programs.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Response to Mandated Lunches at Chicago School

The article from the Chicago Tribune on schools banning lunches from home had made quite a splash on the national school lunch scene, and rightly so. Below is a response from the The Washington Times.

Little Village Academy banned sack lunches six years ago in a supposed effort to improve the nutritional quality of the food its students consume.

According to the report, Chicago Public Schools permits its principals to use their discretion to decide whether their student population needs stringent rules about food choices. Several of the schools apparently have banned sack lunches, while others permit them but confiscate certain foods that administrators deem unhealthy (think Doritos, soda, candy).

Problem: The Little Village students hate much of the school's cafeteria food. Lunches routinely are thrown away uneaten, leaving children hungry until they get home at the end of the day.

Bigger problem: It's not the role of a public school principal to decree what her students may and may not eat. In fact, even the less-stringent policies convey a growing and disturbing trend among educators and others toward meddling in parents' decisions.

I'm not arguing the merits of a healthier school lunch. As the mother of four children, I've already packed thousands of lunches for the very purpose of ensuring the nutritional value of my children's midday meals, and I have about 900 to go, give or take. (Note to self: We're out of turkey.)

But the children profiled in the Chicago Tribune story say they would rather bring a sandwich and a banana from home than eat the glop that passes for "healthy" enchiladas on their lunch trays. However, Little Village parents who want to pack lunches that are even healthier than those prepared in the school cafeteria are unable to do so. (The school makes exceptions for children with allergies or special dietary needs.)

More troubling is the underlying belief that prompts such policies — that some parents simply are incapable of making wise decisions on behalf of their children, even about what to feed them for lunch.

It's a dicey issue. I've been writing for years about the general lack of parenting skills in our nation, including inconsistent discipline, "buddy parenting" and more serious shortcomings, such as letting the culture raise their children without a moral compass or a value system to direct their behavior.

Our national parenting crisis is resulting in a generation that is generally undereducated, hypersexualized, inadequately supervised, media-saturated and poorly fed. Heck, children don't even get enough sleep at night thanks to TVs in their bedrooms.

So let's assume the folks at Little Village Academy and other schools simply are responding to the lack of solid parenting they see exhibited as junk food in sack lunches with a well-intentioned and convenient solution. (Plus, it's lucrative for the company that provides school lunches and the union cafeteria workers they employ. But I digress.)

Ah, but the road to tyranny is paved with good intentions.

The folks who advocate such mandated programs always pitch what sounds like an irrefutable argument: The school (read: government) must step in for our children's health and wellness.

Today, it's required school lunches and body-fat analyses in countless school districts. Tomorrow, who knows what parental rights will be usurped in the name of healthy children?

In a free society, the most we can do is teach and encourage parents to make healthy and wise choices on behalf of their children. Information, "peer pressure" and a healthy school community will do far more to influence parents' behavior than forced solutions from the powers that be.

Anyway, disempowering parents simply won't work. As the students at Little Village Academy know too well, when it comes to feeding our nation's children, the "Nanny Cafe" doesn't come close to homemade.

© Copyright 2011 The Washington Times, LLC.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Chicago school bans some lunches brought from home

Please take a look at the article below. Organic Fresh Fingers of course supports steps toward healthier eating, but we can't imagine that disallowing food from home is the solution. Especially when the so-called "healthy" school lunch - isn't.

To encourage healthful eating, Chicago school doesn't allow kids to bring lunches or certain snacks from home — and some parents, and many students, aren't fans of the policy

By Monica Eng and Joel Hood, Chicago Tribune

Fernando Dominguez cut the figure of a young revolutionary leader during a recent lunch period at his elementary school.

"Who thinks the lunch is not good enough?" the seventh-grader shouted to his lunch mates in Spanish and English.

Dozens of hands flew in the air and fellow students shouted along: "We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch!"

Fernando waved his hand over the crowd and asked a visiting reporter: "Do you see the situation?"

At his public school, Little Village Academy on Chicago's West Side, students are not allowed to pack lunches from home. Unless they have a medical excuse, they must eat the food served in the cafeteria.

Principal Elsa Carmona said her intention is to protect students from their own unhealthful food choices.

"Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school," Carmona said. "It's about the nutrition and the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom). It's milk versus a Coke. But with allergies and any medical issue, of course, we would make an exception."

Carmona said she created the policy six years ago after watching students bring "bottles of soda and flaming hot chips" on field trips for their lunch. Although she would not name any other schools that employ such practices, she said it was fairly common.

A Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman said she could not say how many schools prohibit packed lunches and that decision is left to the judgment of the principals.

"While there is no formal policy, principals use common sense judgment based on their individual school environments," Monique Bond wrote in an email. "In this case, this principal is encouraging the healthier choices and attempting to make an impact that extends beyond the classroom."

Any school that bans homemade lunches also puts more money in the pockets of the district's food provider, Chartwells-Thompson. The federal government pays the district for each free or reduced-price lunch taken, and the caterer receives a set fee from the district per lunch.

At Little Village, most students must take the meals served in the cafeteria or go hungry or both. During a recent visit to the school, dozens of students took the lunch but threw most of it in the garbage uneaten. Though CPS has improved the nutritional quality of its meals this year, it also has seen a drop-off in meal participation among students, many of whom say the food tastes bad.

"Some of the kids don't like the food they give at our school for lunch or breakfast," said Little Village parent Erica Martinez. "So it would be a good idea if they could bring their lunch so they could at least eat something."

"(My grandson) is really picky about what he eats," said Anna Torrez, who was picking up the boy from school. "I think they should be able to bring their lunch. Other schools let them. But at this school, they don't."

But parent Miguel Medina said he thinks the "no home lunch policy" is a good one. "The school food is very healthy," he said, "and when they bring the food from home, there is no control over the food."

At Claremont Academy Elementary School on the South Side, officials allow packed lunches but confiscate any snacks loaded with sugar or salt. (They often are returned after school.) Principal Rebecca Stinson said that though students may not like it, she has yet to hear a parent complain.

"The kids may have money or earn money and (buy junk food) without their parents' knowledge," Stinson said, adding that most parents expect that the school will look out for their children.

Such discussions over school lunches and healthy eating echo a larger national debate about the role government should play in individual food choices.

"This is such a fundamental infringement on parental responsibility," said J. Justin Wilson, a senior researcher at the Washington-based Center for Consumer Freedom, which is partially funded by the food industry.

"Would the school balk if the parent wanted to prepare a healthier meal?" Wilson said. "This is the perfect illustration of how the government's one-size-fits-all mandate on nutrition fails time and time again. Some parents may want to pack a gluten-free meal for a child, and others may have no problem with a child enjoying soda."

For many CPS parents, the idea of forbidding home-packed lunches would be unthinkable. If their children do not qualify for free or reduced-price meals, such a policy would require them to pay $2.25 a day for food they don't necessarily like.

"We don't spend anywhere close to that on my son's daily intake of a sandwich (lovingly cut into the shape of a Star Wars ship), Goldfish crackers and milk," education policy professor Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach wrote in an email. Her son attends Nettelhorst Elementary School in Lakeview. "Not only would mandatory school lunches worsen the dietary quality of most kids' lunches at Nettelhorst, but it would also cost more out of pocket to most parents! There is no chance the parents would stand for that."

Many Little Village students claim that, given the opportunity, they would make sound choices.

"They're afraid that we'll all bring in greasy food instead of healthy food and it won't be as good as what they give us at school," said student Yesenia Gutierrez. "It's really lame. If we could bring in our own lunches, everyone knows what they'd bring. For example, the vegetarians could bring in their own veggie food."

"I would bring a sandwich or a Subway and maybe a juice," said seventh-grader Ashley Valdez.

Second-grader Gerardo Ramos said, "I would bring a banana, orange and some grapes."

"I would bring a juice and like a sandwich," said fourth-grader Eric Sanchez.

"Sometimes I would bring the healthy stuff," second-grader Julian Ruiz said, "but sometimes I would bring Lunchables."

Copyright © 2011, Chicago Tribune

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Feds Seek Comments on Proposed School Meals Rule

WASHINGTON—The deadline for comments on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) proposed new comprehensive rules for Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs is April 13, 2011.

The new rules would align school meals with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) and require schools to serve healthier school meals, including more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat free/low-fat milk, and less sodium and saturated fat.

One of the biggest changes for school breakfast would be to double the amount of fruit to 1 cup per day. The greatest change for school lunch would be an increase in fruits and vegetables to nearly four servings a week.

USDA also is seeking comments on ways to incorporate the 2010 Dietary Guidelines into the proposed updated nutrition standards for school meals, which were based on 2005 DGAs. The 2010 DGAs include a new red-orange vegetable subgroup, while the proposed meal patterns include an orange vegetable subgroup and group the red vegetables under the category of other vegetables (consistent with the 2005 DGAs). The proposed meal patterns do reflect the emphasis on consuming a variety of vegetables, which is a key recommendation of the 2005 and 2010 DGAs.

The 2010 DGAs also advise consuming protein from a variety of sources, and recommend weekly

amounts from three protein foods subgroups—seafood; meat, poultry and eggs; and nuts, seeds and soy products. The proposed meal patterns contain weekly and daily amounts of meats/meat alternates, but do not specify amounts for subgroups introduced by the 2010 DGAs.

Commenting on the proposed rules, United Fresh said it supports these elements of the proposed rule, but opposes one significant provision in the proposal that limits starchy vegetables, including white potatoes, corn and peas. That proposal is not aligned with the Dietary Guidelines, and inappropriately restricts a healthy vegetable.

- Press Release from www.foodproductdesign.com

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Is it Okay to Eliminate Lunch from the School Day?

We all know that school district's across the country are making budget cuts. But as they cut programs and shorten the school year, we have to ask ourselves whether some things are worth saving. Below is an excerpt from an article about a district in Ohio that is considering eliminating school lunch, among other things. What are your thoughts? Do you think school lunch is a necessary part of the school day, or is it something we can drop entirely?

LANCASTER -- One of the proposed cuts the Amanda-Clearcreek Board of Education has floated in the past couple of weeks in a spending reduction plan does not have much community support -- shortening the school day and eliminating school lunches.

Laura Julian, who has three children attending Amanda schools, said she didn't think much of the idea.

"My kids are definitely going to to get a lunch, if they have to bring it to school," Julian said. "When one of the my kids told me about the proposal, I thought she had it wrong. But let's hope the school levy passes this time and it doesn't become an issue."

The district has been working on the spending reduction plan for weeks and will have another work session Friday night before voting on the final spending reduction plan.

During the meeting Monday, Board President Patricia Williard explained that, if the district's five-year, 1.5 percent earned income tax levy failed in May and the board followed through with its proposed plan to cut staff members and shorten the school day, lunch no longer would be provided to the students.

Monday night, the decision on spending reductions was delayed primarily because of the lunch debate.

The reduction plan is designed to address state cuts introduced last week in Gov. John Kasich's budget plan. Under the state plan, the overall education budget would see an 11.5 percent decrease in the first year and a 4.9 percent decrease the second year that includes the loss of federal stimulus dollars.

During a special board meeting, the board slightly revised its spending reduction plan to reflect an 11.5 percent decrease.

Among the board's recommended spending reductions ... the school day would be shortened to five-and-a-half hours for all grades, resulting in the elimination of three custodial positions, and lunch...

However, the elimination of the school lunch seems to have parents and relatives of children uniformed in their opposition.

Carolyn Sheets, a grandmother of two attending Amanda schools, said she didn't support the elimination of lunches.

"The kids really need their lunch," Sheets said. "I volunteer at the school and the kids start talking about lunch about a half hour before they go. It's pretty important to some of them."

John Anderson, who has a great-nephew attending Amanda schools, said the idea was "ridiculous."

"We got everyone telling us how important nutrition is and getting your meals," Anderson said. "I don't think it makes any sense."

To read more, click here.

Monday, April 4, 2011

One Journalist's Experience with School Lunch - The Same Tired Excuses

Below is the second half of Julia O'Malley's story on school lunch in the Anchorage School District. This sad state of school lunch is almost identical to what is being offered in school districts across the country. As you'll read below, food-service officials offer the same tired excuses for why healthy food just doesn't work for school lunch. But we at Organic Fresh Fingers know that there is a way to make healthy, natural, local and organic lunch both affordable and attractive to students. We've shown time and time again a 20% increase in school lunch participation after making the change to our Fresh n' Local lunch program. Kids want to eat healthier - they're just not being given the choice!

The old-school lunch lady with her steaming fresh-baked trays has gone extinct. School lunch arrives at Anchorage schools wrapped in plastic. In school kitchens across the city, there isn't very much to mix, bake or boil. This is the era of reheating.

School lunch prep is centralized. It happens in a big Anchorage School District kitchen facility off Huffman Road. Many items come to the building -- Tater Tots, corn dogs, burger patties -- already processed. The facility processes them again, parceling them out into individual packages.

I visited the lunch facility recently and met Deb Stromstad, one of the district's student nutrition coordinators. She took me on a tour through the big kitchen, by the conveyor belt where workers were packing tots into containers and the huge oven where trays of rolls are baked. I peered into great big bowl of blue Jell-O.

Stromstad has been in the school nutrition business 15 years. I told her about eating lunch with high school students, and how some of them seemed to be eating French fries and pizza every day. It wasn't very healthy, I said.

"It's terrible," she said. "But that's what they go for."

The district meets government requirements and does its best to put healthy choices in front of students every day, she said.

"I can't force them to eat it," she said.

LUNCH FOR 24,000

Anchorage's school-lunch program is paid for partly by federal government reimbursement and partly by revenue from lunch sales. It serves roughly the population of a small city: 20,000 to 24,000 students daily. The district's average cost of each lunch: $4.63. Students who aren't low income pay between $3.15 and $4. The district's food operation has to "float its own boat," Stromstad explained. It runs on a tight margin and if it goes in the red, the people in charge have to ask the School District for money. Nobody wants to do that. So, it's essential to sell what students will buy.

I asked Stromstad what the most popular menu items are for high school students. Pizza, burritos, taco salads, burgers, Subway sandwiches, she said. Some items are healthier than others, but everything looks like something you can buy at a fast food restaurant. That wasn't necessarily the goal, but it is what sells.

Healthy menu items don't fly, she said. Baked potato bars. Salad bars. Soups. All fell flat. Once, years ago, the district tried kiwi fruit. It is both expensive and delicious. Lots of students threw it away. They didn't know what it was, she said. Waste is a big concern, too, she said. For that reason the district offers food, rather than serving it to every student. That's also why it sells food people know students will eat.

The issue isn't what the district serves, Stromstad, said, it's the culture we live in that pushes unhealthy food. The district's food program can't be expected to change the world. Student Nutrition is just in the business of serving breakfast and lunch.

"We're expected to try, so we try," she said.

We walked through a huge freezer filled with processed, frozen foods. The district has an allotted amount to spend with the U.S. Department of Agriculture every year on USDA lunch items. Brent Rock, who runs the student nutrition program, told me later that many of the items come from surplus food the government buys from farmers as part of government support for agriculture.

But school lunch is about to change. The federal government is considering guidelines that would add dark green and orange vegetables to the requirements. They would be served to students rather than offered. It would also move potatoes, French-fried or otherwise, out of the vegetable category. And it would finally place a limit on salt, with a goal to reduce the amount in foods by half over time. That will dictate some recipe changes for what is coming through USDA.

It will also cost more money locally, 27 to 34 percent more than the district is currently paying per meal. Where would that come from? The answer hasn't been worked out completely. The people who run Student Nutrition haven't figured out how they are going to get the students to actually eat healthier foods. Stromstad said they will try to sell students on sweet potato fries and they might puree some beans to add to breakfast bars.


Karol Fink, a dietitian with the state Department of Health, doesn't buy that students don't want healthier food. Their tastes are shaped by what is put in front of them, she said. Studies show kids can learn to eat healthy food just like they learn to like the taste of salty, sweet and fatty foods, she said. Schools are part of that learning process, especially for the nearly 40 percent of district students on the free or reduced lunch plan. For those students, schools provide both breakfast and lunch every day, often more than what's being provided at home.

It's not that students need to be eating only carrot sticks, Fink explained. The problem, she thinks, is when the schools rely so heavily on salty, higher-fat processed food that looks like fast food. Even making more meals that seem like what students might eat at home would be a start, she said.

"It would be nice if they could approximate actual food," she said.

There have been studies suggesting schools can get results just by placing less healthy foods in less visible spots, or by making dessert cash-only. Just asking, "Do you want a salad with that?" raised salad consumption 30 percent in one study. There is also the issue of education. Because of economics, of family practices or culture, some students have just not been exposed to healthy foods. Trying food from an early age is key, Fink said. She thinks the school district should have a dietician in the nutrition department.

Right now, students learn about nutrition in elementary and middle school, but often it's in the abstract. An elementary school teacher might do a unit on the food pyramid using plastic broccoli, for example, but some of the students may have never tasted it.

Schools in some places have some success with garden or farm field-trip programs where students learn where food comes from. Some districts even include "farmer trading cards" that tell students who grew their food. These have all proven to encourage healthy eating.

Students have to make the connection between what they are learning about nutrition and what they are actually eating at lunch. Sharon Vaissiere, head of the district's health curriculum, agreed the district could do a better job with that, especially with collaboration from Student Nutrition.

"There is a big disconnect between the nutrition we're teaching in the classroom and what happens when they go into the cafeteria," she said.

By high school, when students are at the height of body image consciousness and would be ripe for nutrition education, it isn't required.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

One Journalist's Experience with School Lunch

Julia O'Malley, a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, just wrote a two-part story of the state of school lunch in the Anchorage School District. The Anchorage School District is a great example of a standard school district's take on lunch across the country.

In the first part of her story, Julia went to a high school, ate the school lunch being served that day, and took notes of what the students were eating - whether they are school lunch, brought something from home, bought fast food off-campus, or ate from the school's vending machines or snack stand. She then worked with a dietitian to analyze the nutritional information for each lunch option. Here's what she learned:

"I had lunch at Dimond High School... I weighed my options with an adult eye for nutrition. Hot dog (salty). Soft taco (mystery meat factor high). French fries (par-fried, reheated). Pizza (greasy). Burrito.

OK, burrito. Beans. Cheese. Tortilla.


Later, I took pictures I'd taken of student lunches to Karol Fink, a dietitian with the state, to see what the food looked like nutrition-wise.

Before I met with Fink, I looked up some of the fast food kids were eating. I assumed it would be the worst, so it could function as a baseline. The 10-piece chicken nuggets, medium fries and Coke from McDonald's I saw a very slender girl eating? That packed more than half a day's calories (1,050), three-quarters of daily fat intake (48 grams, or equal to about half a stick of butter), more than half the recommended daily allowance of salt (1,270 milligrams or about half a teaspoon) and 58 grams of sugar, or about 14.5 sugar cubes. The double slice of pizza and Crush? In the neighborhood of 600 to 800 calories, 25 to 30 grams of fat, about 1,600 milligrams of sodium (more than McDonald's!) and 39 grams of sugar.

Fink and I started with food that wasn't part of the school lunch program. From the school store, we looked at the smoothie. It was high in Vitamin C, but the sugar content was extra high: 49 grams. That's more than a regular soda (which the district no longer allows to be sold in schools ). The Cup-o-Noodles wasn't fantastic in the fat department (14 grams), but the bigger problem was the salt: 1,434 milligrams. That, too, was more than the entire McDonald's meal.

The lunches that came from home tended to be relatively decent. Here's one Fink liked: peanut butter and jelly on wheat bread. Around 300 or 400 calories, about 14 grams of fat and 10 grams of protein. Add in a 200-calorie low-fat yogurt cup, 90-calorie granola bar, a small 150-calorie bag of potato chips, 100-calorie juice box, and a pear, you get about 900 to 1,000 calories. That's a lot of calories, but less than 30 percent comes from fat, overall it isn't high in salt and it has calcium, protein and fiber. And, it wasn't all highly processed food. Fink would probably trade out the chips for pretzels or pita chips to make it healthier.

Then we got to the district's school lunch options. What we found surprised us both. For one thing, the nutrition information provided by the district had missing pieces and wrong numbers. We did our best with what we could find and used estimates to fill in the holes.

The popular pizza, available daily to high school students, has been billed as a healthier option than previous pizza the district served. (Students at Dimond complained that the taste suffered because of that.) But when we compared it with fast food pizza, we found it had about the same number of calories per slice (340) and a similar amount of fat (13 grams on the pepperoni). Salt was somewhat lower, thought not terrific, at 590 milligrams per slice.


On the school lunch menu, the pizza is often paired with other optional items: a piece of fresh fruit, milk and par-fried potato products, either fries or tots. (According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, fried potatoes count as a vegetable.) In high school, everything is a la carte, so students can choose to have pizza every day.

The fries are salty but not terrible (159 calories, 6 grams fat and 439 milligrams of salt), but the tots are another story. They have 226 calories, 13 grams fat, and 450 milligrams of salt. Taken together with pizza, that's a lot of fat and close to the amount of salt in the McDonald's meal. Chocolate milk isn't too bad, adding a little protein and calcium and another 12 grams of sugar.

My burrito? Three-hundred and 10 calories, 10 grams of fat and 640 milligrams of sodium. The best choice would have been a veggie Subway sandwich (230 calories, 2.5 grams fat, 400 milligrams sodium). Surprisingly, the other Subway options, though lower in fat, have a ton of salt. A 6-inch ham sub packs nearly as much (1,200 milligrams) as the entire McDonald's meal.

District meals have to meet a lot of requirements set out by the government, but they don't have to meet nutrition standards every day. Instead they have to meet a weekly standard. Here's what they're going for: 30 percent of calories or less from fat, 10 percent from saturated fat and no more than 30 grams sugar every day. There is no federal sodium standard. The state standard for sodium, also measured on a weekly basis, is 1,650 milligrams on average, per day. That's a lot for lunch, considering the recommended amount for an entire day is no more than 2300 milligrams.

"When you're taking foods and breaking them down that way, you can make a lot of things meet the requirement," Fink said.

In high school, where students have the most choice, they can forgo the healthiest part of the lunch altogether and they can choose to eat the same thing every day. That means their meals don't meet any standards.

If some of the students keep eating the way they eat now, they can expect increased risk of heart disease and obesity. Sodium at the levels the students have become used to increases the risk of stroke and heart disease.

Fink's overall reaction to what students are having for lunch?


Yikes is right. That's why Organic Fresh Fingers was founded - to provide a healthy, fresh, and local alternative to the unhealthy school lunches that are currently being served every day across the country.

Up Next: the second part of Julia's story, where she discusses why school lunch can't be healthier with the district's nutrition services.

To see photos of lunches from Dimond High School with individual calorie counts, click here.

To read Julia's full article, visit: http://community.adn.com/adn/node/156411#ixzz1I8FkR3qm

Thursday, March 24, 2011

An Extra $158 Million for Fresh Fruits & Veggies

Under the USDA's new guidelines for the National Lunch Program, schools are expected to increase the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables they serve. Recently, the USDA announced that it would be putting its money where its mouth is: The USDA will put $158 million into the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program this year that will go to schools across the country.

The FFVP program works to provide free fresh fruits and vegetables to school children throughout the day. In order to receive the funds from the state, schools must make certain each child receives between $50 - $75 worth of fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the year. The USDA estimates that the FFVP program will be able to include an additional 600,000 - 950,000 children this year.

Oregon will receive $2,528,331 for the FFVP. The state will administer the program, distributing funds to schools that continue working to improve the health and nutrition of the foods they serve.

Organic Fresh Fingers' lunches always include a fresh, organic fruit and vegetable. We think it's wonderful that the government is stepping up to bridge the budget shortfall and help schools make a change for the better. To find out more about the program, see the USDA's press release.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Marion County's "I Love ME" Program

Today, on the steps of the state Capitol, Marion County officially launched it's "I Love ME" campaign to fight obesity and diabetes in the county. Senators Peter Courtney and Jackie Winters, together with other key community members, have joined forces to raise awareness and turn Marion County into a healthier place.

For all of our state's reputation for local, healthy foods and outdoor activities, obesity and diabetes are severe problems in Oregon, just as they are across the nation.

"In a 2009 report to lawmakers, the Office of Oregon Health Policy and Research said:

-One in four eighth-graders was overweight.

-Nearly one in three 11th-graders had weight problems.

-Six in 10 adults were overweight or obese.

-One in three adults has high cholesterol, a key risk factor for heart disease.

The diabetes death rate has increased 76.5 percent since 1990. Yet Oregonians are doing little to help themselves. Large percentages don't regularly exercise or eat vegetables and fruits." - www.statesmanjournal.com, Join 'I Love Me' initiative and fight obesity

Those numbers are discouraging, but with motivated, influential members of the community working together, we can make a change. In schools across the state, we see first hand the effects of unhealthy, high calorie and fat foods served daily to children. Many schools, for budgetary reasons, have cut their physical education program. If we want to provide our children with a better future and a healtier lifestyle, this simply cannot continue.

Perhaps this will be the year we can all agree that it is time to stand together and demand something better.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

More Kids Qualify for Free or Reduced School Lunch

In school districts across the country, more and more children are qualifying for free or reduced school lunch. This is most likely due to the recent recession in the country, with more people unemployed or making reduced wages. It's excellent that the government has a program that protects children during their most crucial development years. The fact that more children are qualifying for the lunch program creates a more urgent need to reform the quality of school lunch.

It's been our experience that kids who qualify for free or reduced lunch are the majority of kids participating in the school lunch program. Those who can afford to bring lunches from home. This creates a micro-social class system in every school. The "poor" kids eat lunch at school and they have no option but to eat the processed, calorie and sodium-laden food that is served every day, while the "well-off" kids bring healthy, fresh lunches from home. This system not only hurts the school district financially, but also hurts those children who need our help and attention the most.

Organic Fresh Fingers is committed to making sure every child, no matter their socio-economic status, has access to a fresh, nutritious and delicious school lunch. In fact, we've found in our schools that when our Fresh n' Local lunch program is served, participation of children who do not qualify for free or reduced lunch rises almost immediately by at least 20%. This helps the school have a more sustainable and profitable lunch program, as well as creating an atmosphere where all children enjoy the lunch meal together.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Are public school lunches making the grade?

Are public school lunches making the grade?
By Michelle Andujar
from Salem Weekly, Section Eat

Greasy cheeseburgers dripping with condiments, overflowing tacos, deep fried chicken nuggets with a side of fries. Make that cheese fries, or better yet, a bag of Doritos. If most children were choosing what they'd eat on a regular basis, the menu would be made up of gooey goodness. Let's face it; if it were up to most adults, based on the national obesity rates alone, they'd chow down on the same menu.

Today, school lunches aren’t quite as bad as one might imagine. The company making all the food for the Salem/Keizer school district for the past 31 years is the multinational Sodexo, based in France. They've repeatedly won the five-year contract because of their ability to offer the most competitive price, which includes the meal cost and the staff necessary to prepare it, deliver it and serve it.

In recent years, public schools have been pushed toward a healthier option. A menu at Salem/Keizer School District elementary schools includes vegetarian options, whole wheat grains in bread, non-hormone-injected dairy products, and even some fresh vegetables.

Some of Sodexo’s products are local, such as the beans and the milk (which is also hormone-free). Sodexo’s general manager and the District’s Food Services Director, Dave Harvey, says they would like to offer more local products but produce doesn’t grow all-year-round around here so they mostly buy it from California. He says organic food is also too costly to include in the schools’ menu. As it becomes more available and prices go down, he says it’s more likely to be included.

Is the effort enough? Not for some parents.

Julie Eaton, a parent of two Wright Elementary vegetarian students, is not satisfied with the options and she packs her kids' lunches most days.

"Once in a while I let them eat school lunch but I never feel right about it," she says, explaining that most of the fruits and vegetables look canned as opposed to fresh, and that sometimes they run out of the vegetarian option by the time her kids get to the cafeteria. When this happens, she says, the school grills them a cheese sandwich.

One solution to a healthier lunch period may be found growing in the fields of local farms.

The National Farm to School Network supports locally grown and healthy meals in school cafeterias, and providing agriculture, health and nutrition education for kids.

As Megan Kemple from the National Farm to School Network says, "It's important for students to understand where food comes from and have a connection to local farms."

On a state level, Representative Brian Clem (D-District 21) has taken the initiative on bringing local food to local schools. He says that because he married a farmer's daughter, he started wondering even before campaigning for office how much the government could spend on Oregon foods rather than importing it.

"When I was running for office in 2006, I gave a speech about what I would do and one of those things was to encourage a closer connection between farms and schools and prisons [institutions]," he says.

The struggle to reach the finish line has been going on since then. Clem has brought the issue back to the table this year by sponsoring House Bill 2800.

"It would stimulate the economy and prevent childhood obesity as well as provide environmental savings from [the reduced] transportation," he says.

They are currently working on the bill through committee and he expects to know in May or June whether there is money to fund the bill. They've amended the bill to reduce the cost from $20 million to $2 million by rolling out the program slowly.

"Local food is often fresher and it tastes fresher so kids are more likely to eat it. It hasn't been trucked from far away. Farm to school programs often set up posters and tasting tables in cafeterias so kids are more likely to try it," Kemple says.

One Salem company, Organic Fresh Fingers, is all about that. They deliver school lunches made with local ingredients, and founder Evann Remington helps schools set up composting sites as well as edible gardens that can be incorporated into the menu. Her dream is one day seeing schools grow most of their food, cook it onsite where all the students can smell it and feel connected to the cook and with the food, and have long lunch periods where the kids are taught table manners and nutrition.

That picture is far from the reality of public school lunches in Salem. At North Salem High, a staff of about ten serve thousands of kids who are divided into two 30-minute lunches.

A sample Sodexo menu at a local elementary consisted of teriyaki beef and broccoli over seasoned rice, beef and bean enchilada, cheeseburger on a multigrain bun, spinach salad with a roll, and turkey and cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread. There's also an all-you-can-eat fruit and vegetable bar at every school.

Organic Fresh Fingers' sample lunch menu includes mac & cheese, bean and rice burritos, vegetarian chili, pizza bagels, quiche, and vegetable soup with a whole wheat roll.

Parents like Eaton like the fact that the company "hides extra nutrients" in the food, such as sweet potatoes or lentils in their spaghetti sauce.

"Our motto is always fresh and local, fresh and natural, or fresh and organic. We never use any artificial colors or flavors, only the purest, highest quality ingredients," says Remington, adding that her program is also lower in sodium and is leaner (currently, all Organic Fresh Fingers meals are vegetarian).

"Fifty percent of the meal, all of the produce, is organic. It's healthier as far as pesticide residue goes," she says, explaining that organic food is more expensive but it's important to buy organic especially when it comes to the raw part of the meal.

Organic Fresh Fingers' high school lunch costs $3.75 while Sodexo's costs $2.20. Breakfast is $2.25 while Sodexo's is $1.05. For the younger kids, Organic Fresh Fingers' lunch is a little lower than Sodexo's, costing $1.25 while theirs is $1.75.

Remington says her company offers other types of savings, including the environment. Sodexo cooks some of the meals that would go to all the schools in its central kitchen, divides them, and delivers them daily. Instead, Organic Fresh Fingers delivers the food frozen once a week to each school. Then it's ready to reheat and serve with fresh fruits and vegetables. Remington says this also saves in labor costs because only one part-time staff member is needed at each school. Remington says some of the schools have a volunteer parent. "They want healthier food and they find a way to make it work," she says.

This is the second year of the District’s current contract with Sodexo, and schools’ Superintendent Sandy Husk says, “Any company can bid for the work.” She also says that the school could potentially choose two different providers, but “In most cases it’s most competitive if we write it for one provider.” She adds that Sodexo has been “very committed to purchasing local” and that if parents have any concerns or an official request, they could bring it up to her or to Sodexo.

Organic Fresh Fingers is ready to bid for the contract next time it becomes available. They are already serving 20,000 lunches a month, compared to Sodexo's 20,000 daily lunches, but Remington says the company is expanding and would be ready to handle that volume by the end of the year.

She says that if her company is chosen in the future for Salem, it would employ lots of people in Salem, and it would also help the local economy by supporting local farmers. "We are dedicated to providing living wage, high quality jobs," she says.

Being based in Salem, she would love to have the market in her hands.

"I'm personally committed to Salem, and I'm trying really hard but there are some barriers. Unlike Portland, we don't really have parents aware of what's happening with school lunches and committed to making them healthier," says Remington, who would like to "put Salem on the map as a community that cares about healthy school lunch."

She says she has had a very positive response from parents whenever she has set up a booth at many local events.

"Salem parents are just as smart and just as interested [as Portland parents]. It's just that this kind of tipping point hasn't been reached," she says, pointing to an example of a charter school in Molalla:

"I finally had to shut the program down," she says, explaining that many parents were angry at the lack of meat in their kids' lunches.

"Sometimes a community has a certain kind of value system. They raise animals; many of them are hunters. They couldn't get over the fact city dwellers were trying to make hippies out of their kids!"

Hippie or not, Remington would like to offer meat, but it would have to be fresh, local and natural.

"I'm already working with a couple of natural growers and butchers. If I can get the volume up enough, I think we could absolutely incorporate [meat] at least in some of the meals," she says. "I think we're really close now."

Remington doesn't know if her food has had an impact on the schools' obesity rates so far, but she has heard testimony from teachers about how they believe the lighter vegetarian meals have had a positive effect on behavior in the classroom.

"The children are not all hyped-up or falling sleep," says Remington.

Remington has been focusing on private and charter schools and perfecting the model for her business. She did try to reach the Salem market by going through Sodexo.

"They're not interested. We're their competition," says Remington.

Harvey says he looked into Organic Fresh Fingers products but he didn't find them cost effective.

One way the two companies have come together is through the national government's competition "Recipes for Healthy Kids Challenge." Remington put together a team including a nutritionist from Sodexo, herself, local students, community members and chef David Rosales and they submitted a recipe. The public will vote in March and the judging period ends in May.

While Remington keeps trying to feed local school kids, she is also offering the larger Salem community an opportunity to try her food by placing an online order at organicfreshfingers.com and picking it up at 1010 Broadway NE.

Meal 1: an average Salem-Keizer School District elementary lunch

Calories: 638

Cholesterol: 47mg

Sodium: 1362mg

Fiber: 6.95mg

Protein: 28.66g

Total Fat: 20.41g

Saturated Fat: 5.78g

Meal 2: a sample menu from Organic Fresh Fingers

Calories: 339

Protein 16.88g

Cholesterol 45mg

Calcium 416mg

Sodium 664mg

Total Fat 15.49g

Dietary Fiber 1.65g

Saturated Fat9.32g

We asked Maria Gutierrez, an assistant manager at GNC, to evaluate both meals. She did so blindly using only the nutritional facts given by both organizations.

Gutierrez concluded that "Meal 2" was the healthier meal for elementary school age kids. "Still not the best, but much better than Meal 1" she says.

Sodium played a key role in the decision.

"Meal 1 is almost more than what an adult should eat at one sitting. The sodium in Meal 1 is a little over half the daily amount an adult should take in."

She says that elementary school aged kids only need 1200-1500mg of sodium per day and only about 1200-1600 total calories depending on the gender and exact age of the child.