- Author: Katherine Lanca
- Editor: Danielle L. Lee
- Editor: Christina Hecht
Grab-and-go meals replaced cafeteria lunch lines during COVID-19 campus closures to ensure that students have reliable access to food. To understand strategies that can improve participation in school meal programs, a study during COVID-19 documented how parents perceived the quality, healthfulness, and benefits of the grab-and-go school meals. Parents from eight school districts in the San Joaquin Valley, California, a region of predominantly Latino farm worker communities, participated in the study. Using a predetermined protocol, parents photographed all meal items provided in their students' school meals for a full week. They then participated in focus groups and group discussions to describe their perceptions of the school meals. Parents expressed appreciation for the convenience of grab-and-go meals, consistent access to food, and safety when collecting meals from school sites during the pandemic. Parents also reported concerns about unappealing meals, lack of variety in foods, and unsafe food packaging. The most common concern parents shared was about the healthfulness of packaged food items. Parents noted sugary, greasy, and fatty options, which did not meet their children's preference for fresh fruit and vegetables. Research findings suggest ways in which school meals can better appeal to both parents and their children to reduce food waste, support those who are food insecure, and increase school meal participation. Researchers of the publication in the Nutrients journal include Tatum Sohlberg, Emma Higuchi, Valeria Ordonez, Gabriela Escobar, Janine Bruce, and Anisha Patel from the Department of Pediatrics, Stanford University School of Medicine, Ashley De La Rosa and Cecelia Castro from Dolores Huerta Foundation, Genoveva Islas from Cultuva La Salud, and Ken Hecht and Christina Hecht from the Nutrition Policy Institute. This study was supported by funding from No Kid Hungry, Stanford Pediatrics Residency, and Stanford Children's Health Community Benefits Grant.
California's San Joaquin Valley is home to many low-income Latino agricultural-worker families who disproportionately experience food insecurity and diet-related diseases. Yet free school meal participation is surprisingly low. Through the existing alliance between the Nutrition Policy Institute, Stanford Medicine's Partnerships for Research in Child Health, Cultiva La Salud, and the Dolores Huerta Foundation, the Stanford University Office of Community Engagement will fund a new project to co-create culturally and linguistically relevant materials for Spanish-speaking families, utilizing their feedback, that explain the history of school meals, United States Department of Agriculture nutrition requirements, and how families can advocate for school meal improvements that fit within the constraints of the school nutrition programs. The funding will also support dissemination of report findings to the USDA and other key nutrition advocacy groups. The 8-month project started in January 2023, and includes NPI's senior policy advisor Christina Hecht and policy director Ken Hecht. Learn more about their project online, and visit the NPI website to learn more about our work to evaluate school meals for all in California and other states.
- Author: Danielle L. Lee
- Editor: Lorrene Ritchie
Healthy Eating Research (HER), a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, conducted a rapid Health Impact Assessment (HIA) to understand how improving school nutrition standards could impact the nutritional quality of school meals, school meal participation, student dietary consumption, students' health and wellbeing, and academic performance. The HIA features several studies conducted by the Nutrition Policy Institute, including a study showing the effectiveness of removing flavored milk from schools in reducing added sugar intake without compromising the intake of milk-related nutrients. Another showed that schools successfully implemented the school meal nutrition standards per the 2010 Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act. It also features a study showing that limiting competitive foods offered in California schools didn't lead to significant revenue loss and improved schools adherence to nutrition standards. Overall, the HIA evidence reviewed suggests that aligning school meal nutrition standards with the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans could have significant positive implications for child nutrition and health and is likely to increase student participation in school meal programs, improve food security, increase school food service revenue, and improve academic performance.
- Author: Danielle L. Lee
- Editor: Lorrene Ritchie
The latest issue of Stanford Medicine Magazine showcases Nutrition Policy Institute's collaborative research with pediatrician Anisha Patel from Stanford Medicine, Department of Pediatrics to improve access to drinking water for school children. The article, titled "Gulp: With drinking water out of reach for many kids, a pediatrician partners with schools to get them access,” chronicles the development of a rich partnership between Patel, community advocates, and NPI's senior policy adviser Christina Hecht, policy director Ken Hecht, as well as a collaborative National Institutes of Health-funded research project conducted by Patel and Nutrition Policy Institute, the Water First project. The Stanford Medicine Magazine article was published online on January 23, 2023.
In a recent CNN article, Lauren Au, Assistant Professor at the University of California, Davis in the Department of Nutrition and an affiliated researcher with the Nutrition Policy Institute, shared her thoughts on the proposed changes to school nutrition standards. The United States Department of Agriculture has proposed new rules that would allow flavored milk in school but also place gradual limits on the added sugars and sodium in school foods and strengthen the Buy American requirements encouraging schools to use more locally grown food. Au was quoted in the article, “It's a step forward in terms of promoting healthy nutrition in schools. The reduction of added sugar is a big deal. Reducing added sugars for this age range is so important.” The article also cited Au's research, which she conducted during her time at NPI, which showed that children who eat meals at school ate more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy, compared with those who ate at school less frequently. The article titled “Proposed changes to school lunches aim to reduce sugar and sodium, but flavored milk stays” was published on February 3, 2023. Au was also quoted in a The New York Times article on February 3 titled “Agriculture Dept. Proposes Limits on Sugar and Salt in School Meals.” The comment period for the proposed USDA rule is open through April 10, 2023.