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:

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." -, 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 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.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Let's Move - One Year Later

Check out this video from the First Lady. We think her work with the Let's Move Campaign is good for everyone in the country, no matter your age, socio-economic status or political orientation.

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Student's Letter to the Editor

We loved this student's letter to the editor of her local newspaper. She talks frankly about school lunch and why she makes the choices she makes. We think she makes all the right points, and it's a great example of what is wrong with most schools' attitude toward offering healthy lunch.
"Why are healthy foods so much more expensive than junk food in my school and community?

Buying lunch at school can get really expensive. Schools tell us to exercise and eat healthy food, but they make it so hard. A fruit cup cost $3 but a piece of pizza only cost $2. So, when I go to buy my lunch, I can usually only afford one. I’m going to buy the pizza because it is more filling than a fruit cup and I won’t be hungry for the rest of the day. A salad or a sandwich can cost anywhere from $4 to $5 but, again, pizza only costs $2. If I buy my lunch, my mom usually gives me $4, so the healthy stuff is out of my price range.

Schools should change their prices if the average student can’t afford healthy food.

Another place where healthy food is too expensive is grocery stores. Fruits and vegetables are much more expensive than chips or soda.

Research done at the University of Washington shows junk food is less expensive than healthy food and the prices of these foods are less likely to go up.

Families with lower incomes can’t afford to buy expensive foods every time they buy groceries. Their children learn bad eating habits that will stick with them through adulthood.

Expensive food prices are the reason that the highest rates of obesity are seen among lower income groups. Prices of healthy foods need to change."

Carly McShane -

Friday, March 4, 2011

Michelle Obama's Wal-Mart Endorsement

The first lady's gotten a lot of flack recently about her Let's Move campaign in general and specifically about her decision in January to partner with Wal-Mart to offer healthier and more affordable pre-packaged foods.

Wal-Mart is a giant corporation, and of course there is some risk that this partnership will undermine other issues, like fair market values and fair labor practices. This might be a controversial position to take, but we at Organic Fresh Fingers support the First Lady's actions. We agree that until major companies like Wal-Mart start committing to change, healthy options won't reach the general public.

Change like that won't come if companies don't profit from making their food healthier and more affordable. A huge market player like Wal-Mart could be just want this movement needs. If Wal-Mart demands that their suppliers make their products healthier while still keeping costs down, chances are that will have a ripple effect on grocery store chains across the country. For example, when Wal-Mart demanded that containers for large products like laundry detergent be shaped more efficiently for shipping and shelf-storage, pretty soon all grocery stores started carrying those same sized products. Like it or not, the choices Wal-Mart makes affect us all.

That's why we think it's so great that Wal-Mart is making this change. We can't continue to fight with industry leaders - we need to find a way to work with them. An article on The Indypendent's website points this out in terms we can all understand:

“Hating the food industry is not an option,” says Shiriki Kumanyika, a public health advocate and scholar at the University of Pennsylvania and founder of the African American Collaborative Obesity Network. “The question is, how do you work with the food industry so that they can make a profit, but still sell us food that is more likely to promote health and less likely to promote obesity?”

The “huge victory” Obama championed in the Wal-Mart announcement is creating viable choices for informed consumers. She and others have argued that communities can only win if there is cost parity between healthy food and the high-calorie snacks that contribute to obesity. “If you have a dollar menu item and a healthier salad that costs three times as much, it’s not a choice for people living on a limited income,” says Antronette K. Yancey, co-director of the UCLA Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Equity.

Yancey also emphasizes that it’s not just families who have to make these choices—budget-strapped schools and city-run summer camps also must make cost-effective food purchases for children. Getting the food industry to self-regulate sugar and sodium has long-term benefits; getting a company as large as Wal-Mart on board might just trigger other manufacturers to follow suit, which leads to a marketplace with more healthier options, at a fair price to consumers. Even though consumers are ultimately responsible for the decisions they make, giving them the ability to make those decisions without economic repercussions makes good ones more likely. - "Is Michelle Obama's Wal-Mart Endorsement a Healthy Idea?" - The Indypendent.

So even though we don't agree with all of Wal-Mart's decisions, we can still get on board and support Mrs. Obama in her partnership with Wal-Mart. We need more companies who are at least willing to begin making changes toward healthier, affordable options.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Excuses, excuses...

If you've been following the news about school lunch at all, you probably know by now that USDA has changed school lunch nutrition requirements. We at Organic Fresh Fingers are excited about these changes, as they are a step in the right direction to serving children healthier food. Organic Fresh Fingers is already following most of these new requirements as part of our guiding principles.

But, as expected, a lot of school lunch coordinators across the country are sounding off about how difficult these changes will be to implement and whether are not children will like the food. Here's just one example of the types of comments and excuses being made:
"The USDA wants to reduce sodium content of lunches to a scant quarter teaspoon per day, or around 640 milligrams, depending on the child's grade level. The average school lunch currently has about 1,400 milligrams of sodium in it, according to USDA.

In other words, just the ham in a sandwich would be above the proposed limit.

"I can give them a bread sandwich!" said Dickl, joking. "A bread sandwich, milk and some vegetables, with that level of sodium."

Most lunch lines in the region have already done away with salt shakers and packets, administrators say, but there's still hidden salt in most foods.

"How do you do all that and have the kids eat?" asked Karen Helton, food service coordinator for Blount County Schools. "How do you make a teaspoon of salt go all week?"

Eventually manufacturers will come out with more low-sodium foods, USDA says. Whether they'll taste good is another issue, administrators counter.

"In high school, their palates are already developed," said Margaret Burrell, school nutrition program director for Anderson County Schools.

"If you cut the sodium too much, and you stop frying anything, then you get into the fact that they'll just stop eating with you, period." -

Organic Fresh Fingers knows from experience that it is possible to make healthy and delicious foods that kids enjoy eating. You won't find any complaints from us about how it is hard to serve healthy food. We know that it's not difficult - it just takes a commitment to quality and health that most school food providers don't have.