How Austin Public Schools makes sure no kid goes hungry
By Tanner Lange
Austin Public Schools Dietitian
School nutrition has always been somewhat of a controversial topic. Are schools providing enough food? Is the food healthy? Does it taste good? In recent years, negative lunch balances, lunch shaming, and strict nutrition guidelines have combined to put a negative spotlight on the meals served in our public schools.
Here at Austin Public Schools, we are always trying to end the stigma of negative lunch balances and lunch shaming, while also striving to feed students the most nutritious and best tasting meals possible.
The National School Lunch Program (NSLP), a federally assisted meal program operating within public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions, provides students at Austin Public Schools with nutritionally balanced meals at low to no cost. According to the School Nutrition Association, in 2016 the program helped 30.4 million children.
Currently in Austin, we are feeding around 3,500 kids per day. That means that, for at least one meal per day, our students are receiving fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy, and lean protein. Students are also consuming appropriate intakes of calcium, Vitamin A, and Zinc while limiting their sodium and calorie intake to age appropriate levels, which can help to prevent common issues such as obesity and heart disease.
School lunch participation is also linked to a lower body mass index, which means children have a better chance at maintaining a healthy weight. Balanced nutrition can also increase student success inside and outside of the classroom.
Research shows that school meal programs play a very important role in supporting the prevention of obesity. School lunches promote overall health of students and academic achievement by improving children’s diets and decreasing hunger. The NSLP also helps to reduce food insecurity which is often associated with negative health outcomes, slower progress in development and educational outcomes, and an increased chance of repeating a grade.
Along with lunch, students also receive free breakfast at school every day. Again, the research shows that eating breakfast helps to improve academic performance, improved attendance, fewer nurse visits, and improved classroom behavior and attentiveness of students.
The School Breakfast Program also helps busy parents because their children will be getting a nutritious, balanced, and free meal that can decrease the stress of busy mornings.
At Austin Public Schools, we are working to serve nutritious, well-balanced meals that help to support our students, in the classroom, on the playground, and in the rest of their lives. If you’d like to learn more, please feel free to check out our website at www.austin.k12.mn.us/Pages/food-nutrition/food-nutrition.aspx or give us a call at 507-460-1921.
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