Office for Food and Nutrition Programs National School Lunch Program – Question Answers

  1. What is the National School Lunch Program? The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a federally assisted meal program operating in nearly 95,000 public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to more than 26 million children each school day. Established under the National School Lunch Act, signed by President Harry Truman in 1946, the program celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1996.The U.S. Department of Agriculture, through its Food and Nutrition Service (formerly the Food and Consumer Service), administers the program at the Federal level. At the State level, the NSLP is usually administered by State education agencies, which operate the program through agreements with local school districts. School districts and independent schools that choose to take part in the lunch program receive cash reimbursement and donated commodity assistance from USDA for each meal they serve. In return, they must serve lunches that meet Federal nutrition requirements, and they must offer free and reduced-price lunches to eligible children.

    In 1994, FNS launched the School Meals Initiative for Healthy Children to teach children the importance of making healthy food choices, and to support school food service professionals in delivering healthy school meals. Supported by legislation passed in 1994 and 1996, the initiative updated nutrition standards so that all school meals meet the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. New regulations implementing the initiative became final in June, 1995, and took effect at the beginning of school year 1996-97.

  2. What is Community Eligibility Provisions for Universal Free Meals?Eligible schools are able to streamline and improve school nutrition programs providing universal breakfast and lunch to all students through this provision.
  3. What are the nutritional requirements for the school lunch?School lunches must meet Federal nutrition requirements, but decisions about what specific foods to serve and how they are prepared are made by local school food authorities.Current regulations require schools to meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommend that no more than 30 percent of an individual’s calories come from fat, and less than 10 percent from saturated fat. Regulations also establish a standard for school meals to provide one-third of the Recommended Daily Allowances of protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium, and calories.

    Schools have the option to choose one of four systems for their menu planning: Nutrient Standard Menu Planning, Assisted Nutrient Standard Menu Planning, the traditional meal pattern, and the enhanced meal pattern. Both Nutrient Standard and Assisted Nutrient Standard Menu Planning systems base their planning on a computerized nutritional analysis of the week’s menu. The traditional and enhanced meal pattern options base their menu planning on minimum component quantities of meat or meat alternate; vegetables and fruits; grains and breads; and milk.

    USDA has made a commitment to improve the nutritional quality of all school meals. The Department works with state and local school food authorities through the Nutrition Education and Training Program and Team Nutrition initiative to teach and motivate children to make healthy food choices, and to provide school food service staff with training and technical support.

  4. How does the National School Lunch Program work?Schools in the lunch program get cash subsidies and donated commodities from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for each meal they serve. In return, they must serve lunches that meet Federal requirements, and they must offer free or reduced-price lunches to eligible children.
  5. How do children qualify for free and reduced-price meals?Any child at a participating school may purchase a meal through the National School Lunch Program. Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level (currently $21,710 for a family of four) are eligible for free meals. Those between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level (currently $30,895 for a family of four) are eligible for reduced-price meals, for which students can be charged no more than 40 cents.Children from families with incomes over 185 percent of poverty pay a full price, though their meals are still subsidized to some extent. Local school food authorities set their own prices for full-price meals.
  6. How many schools take part in the school lunch program?Nearly 95,000 schools and residential child care institutions participate in the National School Lunch Program. Public schools or non-profit private schools of high school grade or under, and residential child care institutions are eligible.The program is available in almost 99 percent of all public schools, and in many private schools as well. About 92 percent of all students nationwide have access to meals through the NSLP. On a typical day, about 58 percent of the school children to whom the lunch program is available participate.
  7. How much reimbursement do schools get?Most of the support USDA provides to schools in the National School Lunch Program comes in the form of a cash reimbursement for each meal served.Please check our Financial Management Page for current rates.
  8. What other support do schools get from USDA?In addition to cash reimbursements, schools are entitled by law to receive commodity foods, called “entitlement” foods, at a value of 15 cents for each meal served. Schools can also get bonus” commodities as they are available from surplus stocks. Under the School Meals Initiative, USDA also provides schools with technical training and assistance to help school food service staffs prepare healthy meals, and with nutrition education to help children understand the link between diet and health.Higher reimbursement rates are in effect for Alaska and Hawaii, and for some schools in special circumstances.
  9. What types of foods do schools get from USDA? States select entitlement foods for their schools from a list of more than 60 different kinds of food purchased by USDA and offered through the school lunch program. The list includes fresh, canned and frozen fruits and vegetables; meats; fruit juices; vegetable shortening; peanut products; vegetable oil; and flour and other grain products.Bonus foods are offered only as they become available through agricultural surplus. The variety of both entitlement and bonus commodities schools can get from USDA depends on quantities available and market prices.

    About 17 percent of the total dollar value of the food that goes on the table in school lunch programs is provided directly by USDA as commodities. Schools purchase the remaining 83 percent from their own vendors. As a part of its School Meals Initiative, USDA has placed special emphasis on improving the quality of commodities donated to the school lunch program, including a great increase in the amount and variety of fresh produce available to schools.

  10. What foods are schools required to serve in a school lunch? USDA does not require schools to serve — or not serve — any particular foods. School meals must meet Federal nutrition requirements, but decisions about what foods to serve and how they are prepared are made by local school food authorities.Until the School Meals Initiative for Healthy Children, the Federal nutritional requirements for school meals had not changed significantly since the school lunch program began in 1946. As part of the initiative, USDA published regulations to help schools bring their meals up to date to meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The Dietary Guidelines recommend that no more than 30 percent of an individual’s calories come from fat, and no more than 10 percent from saturated fat.

    The new regulations require schools to have met the Dietary Guidelines by school year 1996-1997, unless they received a waiver to allow an extension for up to two years. They also establish a standard for school meals to provide one-third of the Recommended Daily Allowances of protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium, and calories. Schools’ compliance with both the Dietary Guidelines and the RDA’s is measured over a week’s menu cycle.

    Schools have the option to choose one of five systems for their menu planning: NuMenus, Assisted NuMenus, traditional meal pattern, enhanced meal pattern, and other “reasonable approaches.” Both the NuMenus and Assisted NuMenus systems base their planning on a computerized nutritional analysis of the week’s menu. The traditional and enhanced meal pattern options base their menu planning on minimum component quantities of meat or meat alternate; vegetables and fruits; grains and breads; and milk. The fifth menu option allows schools to develop other “reasonable approaches” to meeting the Dietary Guidelines, using menu planning guidelines from USDA.

  11. How many children have been served over the years? The National School Lunch Act in 1946 created the modern school lunch program, though USDA had provided funds and food to schools for many years prior to that. In signing the 1946 act, President Harry S Truman said,

    “Nothing is more important in our national life than the welfare of our children, and proper nourishment comes first in attaining this welfare.”

    About 7.1 million children were participating in the National School Lunch Program by the end of its first year, 1946-47. By 1970, 22 million children were participating, and by 1980 the figure was nearly 27 million. In 1990, an average of 24 million children ate school lunch every day. In Fiscal Year 2011, more than 31.8 million children each day got their lunch through the National School Lunch Program. Since the modern program began, more than 224 billion lunches have been served.

    For more information please visit the National School Lunch Program website.

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The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions


National School Lunch Program (NSLP)

The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. The program was established under the National School Lunch Act, signed by President Harry Truman in 1946.

School Breakfast Program (SBP)

The School Breakfast Program (SBP) provides cash assistance to States to operate nonprofit breakfast programs in schools and residential childcare institutions. The program is administered at the Federal level by FNS. State education agencies administer the SBP at the State level, and local school food authorities operate it in schools.

After School Snack Program (ASSP)

The National School Lunch Program offers cash reimbursement to help schools serve snacks to children in afterschool activities aimed at promoting the health and well being of children and youth in our communities.

Special Milk Program

Begun in 1955, the Special Milk Program is administered at the Federal level by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through its Food and Nutrition Service, formerly the Food and Consumer Service. The Special Milk Program (SMP) provides milk to children in schools and childcare institutions that do not participate in other Federal child nutrition meal service programs. The program reimburses schools for the milk they serve.

Schools in the National School Lunch or School Breakfast Programs may also participate in the SMP to provide milk to children in half-day pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs where children do not have access to the school meal programs.

Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program

The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) provides all children in participating schools with a variety of free fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the school day. It is an effective and creative way of introducing fresh fruits and vegetables as healthy snack options. The FFVP also encourages schools to develop partnerships at the State and local level for support in implementing and operating the program.

Summer Nutrition Opportunities

There are three summer nutrition program opportunities from which SFAs may select to offer meals to students during the summer months and/or other vacation periods.

For more information and resources on the various programs click on a program title below:

Segregated Charter Schools Evoke Separate But Equal Era in U.S.

John Hechinger
December 22, 2011 — 10:31 AM IST
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Hmong Charter School
Students run under a mural depicting ancient Hmong leader Chi You and the Hmong flight from Vietnam during gym class at the Hmong College Prep Academy on Dec. 14, 2011 in St Paul, Minn. Photographer: Craig Lassig/Bloomberg
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At Dugsi Academy, a public school in St. Paul, Minnesota, girls wearing traditional Muslim headscarves and flowing ankle-length skirts study Arabic and Somali. The charter school educates “East African children in the Twin Cities,” its website says. Every student is black.

At Twin Cities German Immersion School, another St. Paul charter, children gather under a map of “Deutschland,” study with interns from Germany, Austria and Switzerland and learn to dance the waltz. Ninety percent of its students are white.

Six decades after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down “separate but equal” schools for blacks and whites, segregation is growing because of charter schools, privately run public schools that educate 1.8 million U.S. children. While charter-school leaders say programs targeting ethnic groups enrich education, they are isolating low-achievers and damaging diversity, said Myron Orfield, a lawyer and demographer.

“It feels like the Deep South in the days of Jim Crow segregation,” said Orfield, who directs the University of Minnesota Law School’s Institute on Race & Poverty. “When you see an all-white school and an all-black school in the same neighborhood in this day and age, it’s shocking.”

Charter schools are more segregated than traditional public schools, according to a 2010 report by the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles. Researchers studied 40 states, the District of Columbia, and 39 metropolitan areas. In particular, higher percentages of charter-school students attend what the report called “racially isolated” schools, where 90 percent or more students are from disadvantaged minority groups.
Charter-School Birthplace

In Minnesota, the birthplace of the U.S. charter-school movement, the divide is more than black and white.

St. Paul’s Hmong College Prep Academy, 99 percent Asian-American in the past school year, immerses students “in the rich heritage that defines Hmong culture.” Its Academia Cesar Chavez School — 93 percent Hispanic — promises bilingual education “by advocating Latino cultural values in an environment of familia and community.” Minneapolis’s Four Directions Charter School, 94 percent Native American, black and Hispanic, promotes “lifelong learning for American Indian students.”

Charter schools, which select children through lotteries, are open to all who apply, said Abdulkadir Osman, Dugsi’s executive director.

“Some people call it segregation,” Osman said. “This is the parent’s choice. They can go anywhere they want. We are offering families something unique.”
Nobody ‘Forced’

That’s a “significant difference” between Minnesota charters and segregated schools in the 1950s South, said Joe Nathan, director of the Center for School Change at Macalester College in St. Paul.

“Nobody is being forced to go to these schools,” said Nathan, who helped write Minnesota’s 1991 charter-school law.

Ever since Horace Mann crusaded for free universal education in the 19th century, public schools have been hailed as the U.S. institutions that bring together people of disparate backgrounds.

The atomization of charter schools coincides with growing U.S. diversity. Americans of other races will outnumber whites by 2042, the Census Bureau projects.

Even after a divided Supreme Court in 2007 ruled that schools couldn’t consider race in making pupil assignments to integrate schools, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy urged districts to find other ways to fight “de facto resegregation” and “racial isolation.”

“The nation’s schools strive to teach that our strength comes from people of different races, creeds, and cultures uniting in commitment to the freedom of all,” Kennedy wrote.
Diverse Workplaces

Citing Kennedy’s words, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder this month called for schools — including charters — to combat growing segregation.

Along with breeding “educational inequity,” racially-divided schools deny children the experiences they need to succeed in an increasingly diverse workplace, Duncan said in announcing voluntary guidelines for schools.

Charter schools may specialize in serving a single culture as long as they have open admissions, and there’s no evidence of discrimination, said Russlynn Ali, assistant education secretary for civil rights.

The education department is encouraging charter schools to promote diversity. Charters could expand recruiting and consider lotteries that give extra weight to disadvantaged groups, such as families living in low-income neighborhoods or children who speak English as a second language, Ali said in a phone interview.
Immigrant Magnet

Minnesota, 85 percent white, is a case study of the nation’s growing diversity. Since the 1970s, Minneapolis and St. Paul have become a magnet for Hmong refugees, who fought alongside Americans in the Vietnam War. In the 1990s, Somalis sought refuge from civil war.

St. Paul, where the nation’s first charter school opened in 1992, is 16 percent black, 10 percent Hispanic and 15 percent Asian-American, according to the U.S Census Bureau.

Charter schools should be similarly diverse, recommended a 1988 report that provided the groundwork for Minnesota’s charter-school law.

“We envision the creation of schools which, by design, would invite a dynamic mix of students by race and ability levels,” the Citizens League, a St. Paul-based nonprofit public-policy group, wrote in the report.
‘Great Failure’

Instead, in the 2009-2010 school year, three quarters of the Minneapolis and St. Paul region’s 127 charter schools were “highly segregated,” according to the University of Minnesota Law School’s race institute. Forty-four percent of schools were 80 percent or more non-white, and 32 percent, mostly white.

“It’s been a great failure that the most segregated schools in Minnesota are charter schools,” said Mindy Greiling, a state representative who lobbied for the charter-school law when she was a member of a suburban school board in the 1980s. “It breaks my heart.”

Segregation is typical nationwide. Seventy percent of black charter-school students across the country attended “racially isolated” schools, twice as many as the share in traditional public schools, according to the report from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA.

Half of all Latino charter-school students went to these intensely segregated schools, the study found. In the West and the South, the two most racially diverse regions of the country, “charters serve as havens for white flight from public schools,” the report said.
Hmong Roots

They also serve as havens for minority students who need extra help, said leaders of Minnesota charter schools.

Christianna Hang, founder of Hmong College Prep Academy, said she designed the school so children, mostly first-generation Americans, didn’t feel adrift in public schools as she did when she arrived in the U.S. in 1980.

In the Hmong academy’s central hallway, a tapestry depicts families living in Laos, fleeing the Vietnam War and arriving in America. The school’s roughly 700 students, in grades kindergarten through 12th grade, learn Hmong.

“I came here for my parents as much as for me,” said Mai Chee Xiong, a 17-year-old senior. “I was very Americanized. I wanted to be able to speak with them in our language, and I wanted to understand my roots.”

In the 2009-2010 school year, 26 percent of Hmong Academy students met or exceeded standards on state math exams, while 30 percent did so in reading. About half passed those tests in the St. Paul Public School District.
Harvard Banners

To raise expectations, classrooms adopt colleges, hanging banners from Harvard University, Yale University and Dartmouth College over their doors.

“If we don’t do something to help these kids, they will get lost,” Hang said. “If they drop out of school, they will never become productive citizens, and there’s no way they will achieve the American dream.”

Dugsi Academy, the school for East Africans, and Twin Cities German Immersion School make for some of St. Paul’s sharpest contrasts.

Until this school year, the two schools were neighbors, across a busy commercial thoroughfare in a racially diverse neighborhood. At different times of the day, the kids used a city playground in front of the German school for recess. Dugsi has since moved three miles away, across a highway from the Hmong academy.

The German Immersion School is a bright, airy former factory with exposed brick and high ceilings.
Fluent German

“Eva, was ist das?” kindergarten teacher Elena Heindl asked one morning earlier this month as she pointed a red flashlight to letters, eliciting the name of each one in German.

To succeed at the school, students must be fluent in German to enroll, unless they enter before second or third grade, Julie Elias, a parent, told prospective families on a tour this month.

“You can’t just move into the neighborhood if you want to go to our school,” Elias said. The school is legally required to take anyone picked in its lottery, though it counsels parents against enrolling in older grades without German knowledge, said Annika Fjelstad, its director.

The school, which includes many families with one parent who speaks German or that have German relatives, holds special events at the Germanic-American Institute in a $1.3 million St. Paul house with a ballroom. Children like to call the institute “our school’s mansion,” said Chris Weimholt, another parent giving the tour.
No Buses

In the 2009-2010 school year, 87 percent of children at the German school passed state math tests and 84 percent did so in reading, according to the Minnesota Department of Education. Fifteen percent qualify for the federal free or reduced lunch program, compared with 71 percent in St. Paul. The school doesn’t offer bus transportation, so most parents drive, often carpooling, Elias said.

The language requirement and lack of transportation prevents poor families from attending, said Greiling, the state legislator, who has toured the school.

“A regular public school could never have that kind of bar,” she said. “It seems an odd thing that this would be legal.”

The German program doesn’t have buses because they would cost $100,000 a year, too heavy a burden for an expanding school of 274 that wants to maintain classes of 20 students, Fjelstad said. An immersion school can’t take kids who aren’t fluent after early grades, she said.

In February, the school formed an “inclusivity” task force to find ways to make the school more reflective of the community, Fjelstad said. The school will try to improve recruiting through its relationship with community organizations, such as a neighboring YMCA, she said.
International View

The school offers a different kind of diversity, said Weimholt, a nurse whose grandfather emigrated from Germany after World War I. “It doesn’t look diverse by skin color. But families straddle two different continents. The school truly has an international perspective.”

So does Dugsi Academy. Children learn Arabic and Somali along with English and traditional academic subjects. A caller last month heard no English on a school voice mail.

One morning in late November, a sixth-grade social-studies class discussed immigration with 28-year-old Khaleefah Abdallah, who himself fled Somalia 12 years ago. The boys wore jeans and sweatshirts. The girls sported hijabs, or traditional Muslim head coverings with skirts or long pants.
‘Melting Pot’

Abdallah asked his class about the idea of the American “melting pot:” immigrants assimilating into U.S. culture. He suggested another metaphor, a “salad bowl,” where people from different backgrounds mix while retaining their own identity.

“I agree with the salad bowl,” Fadumo Ahmed, 12, dressed in a black hijab and sneakers with pink laces, told the class. “We all come from different places, but we still want to keep our culture.”

Students shared stories of the challenge of co-existing in mainstream America.

Ahmed Hassan, 12, complained about a boy on a city playground who made fun of the long traditional robe he wore one Friday.

“He told me it looked like a skirt,” Hassan said. Abdallah told the class that, under the U.S. constitution, Americans have the freedom to express themselves through their clothing.
Test Scores

Dugsi, a low-slung red-brick building in an office park, has about 300 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Almost all qualify for federal free or reduced lunches, according to the state. Only 19 percent passed state math exams in the 2009-2010 school year, while 40 percent did so in reading.

The school’s test scores reflect families’ backgrounds. said Osman, the Dugsi director and a former employee of the U.S. Embassy in Somalia, who emigrated to the U.S. in 1993. Parents work as cab drivers, nurses and grocers, Osman said. Many had no formal schooling.

It would be better if one day Somali students could go to school with children from other backgrounds, Osman said.

“That’s the beauty of America — Latinos, Caucasians, African-Americans and Native Americans, all together in the same building, eating lunch and in the same classrooms,” Osman said. “It would be something wonderful. That’s what I’m thinking of for my own kids and grandchildren.”

Grand Tasting Area In My Community > Diabetes EXPOs > Minneapolis EXPO

Grand Tasting Area

Diabetes Education and Novo - 195x77

The Grand Tasting Area is a multi-layered world class sampling of appealing diabetes-friendly foods created and served by Novo Nordisk Diabetes Education Program Celebrity Chefs: Chef Tiffany Derry, Chef Rory Schepisi, Chef Doreen Colondres, and Chef Dana Herbert. Each chef will be paired with a Novo Nordisk Diabetes Educator delivering educational focused on healthy eating and meal planning. Healthy eating does not have to be boring but vibrant, full of life and flavor! Groups will be admitted into the Grand Tasting Area every 15 minutes from 11:00am – 1:30pm.

Meet the Chefs

Chef Tiffany Derry

Chef Tiffany

With humble beginnings in hospitality, Tiffany Derry has fired up the culinary scene from Dallas, Texas, where she built her TD Concepts brand and company from the ground up. Tiffany found a love of cooking at an early age and later graduated from The Art Institute of Houston, Texas. She went on to become a national spokesperson for the school and a sought-after sous chef at several regionally acclaimed restaurants. Tiffany’s natural ability in the kitchen and her colorful personality made her an obvious choice for Bravo’s “Top Chef,” where she was voted fan favorite in Season 7. This recognition earned her a spot as a contestant on “Top Chef All-Stars,” where she made it to the final-four round. With a personal family connection to diabetes, Tiffany has also made it her mission to educate people about healthy lifestyles and portion control. She has worked tirelessly to revamp the Dallas School Districts lunch program with more nutritious options. In blending nutrition with flavor, Tiffany stands by one rule in her kitchen, “make it taste good or forget it!”

Chef Rory Schepisi

Chef Rory

A New Jersey native with a big city attitude, Rory grew up surrounded by family in the restaurant business. At just 16, she decided to make cooking her career and enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America. After making a splash with her first restaurant at age 20, Rory consulted for establishments nationwide, gaining recognition in the process. While embracing the bicoastal lifestyle, Rory was offered the unique opportunity to join the reality TV program “Popularity Contest” on Country Music Television, which transplanted her to a small town in America’s heartland. Her experience on the show inspired her to permanently relocate to Vega, Texas, and start her successful restaurant, Boot Hill Saloon & Grill, which has since become a favorite among locals and visitors alike. Her accolades include reaching the final round on “The Next Food Network Star,” hosting her weekly cooking segment on NBC’s Texas affiliate and appearing on The Today Show as a featured chef. A perfect blend of Southern charm mixed with Yankee sass, Rory adds a healthy twist to her down-home style of cooking. Grab a fork – Rory is in the kitchen!

Chef Doreen Colondres

Chef Doreen

Born into a family of cooks, Doreen Colondres’ family kitchen was the epicenter of her childhood. She developed a passion for local, fresh food and merging classic flavors with new ingredients. When life took her to Miami, Doreen found she was never far from the kitchen, cooking for friends and entertaining. In fact, Doreen wanted to convince the world that “The Kitchen Doesn’t Bite” and launched her website of the same name. A leading figure in today’s “Cocina Latina” movement and an expert in a range of Hispanic cooking, Doreen is determined to revolutionize the way the world approaches food, cooking, and eating habits. As a fresh food advocate with a passion to educate, Doreen’s easy approach and vibrant personality have helped her become a “people’s chef.” When Doreen isn’t experimenting in the kitchen, she’s either traveling abroad consulting for international companies, or is on-air hosting cooking shows on Fox’s Utilisima Network. Her mission is to show others that Hispanic food is flavorful and diverse, and that cooking is relaxing, healthy, and most importantly fun!

Chef Dana Herbert

Chef Dana

Chef Dana Herbert was introduced to cooking and pastry making while studying for a culinary degree at Johnson and Wales University. He operates an award-winning custom bakery “Desserts by Dana” in his home-state of Delaware, where he dishes up sweet and savory treats. Affectionately called “Delaware’s King of Cakes” by local fans, Dana was challenged to join TLC’s “Cake Boss: Next Great Baker” flagship series in 2010-2011. Dana took the show by storm, bringing flavor and color to life in his cakes on television, and ultimately won the show. His big win caught the attention of the James Beard Celebrity Chef Tour, where he came on board as a celebrity chef and gained recognition for his culinary creations. He has since been featured on a number of different shows and has authored A Sweet and Savory Union to showcase his love of blurring the lines of sweet and savory. Dana comes to Diabetes Academy with not only a passion for food, but also the sensibility and insight that life is all about moderation.

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Food Processors and Ingredient Suppliers Study School Lunch Programs for Innovative Ideas

Processors and ingredient suppliers need to collaborate in creating meals that are nutritious and desirable for this picky and often overweight demographic.

By Mark Anthony, Ph.D., Technical Editor

School lunch nutrition programs come in as many forms and approaches as there are school districts. But one constant is that budgets are always tight. However, processors who participate in the efforts to better feed our children can find satisfaction in not only doing the right thing but in creating products for a significantly large demographic. Case in point: The New York school system alone serves more than 1 million meals per day.

“Schools meals are expected to be universally acceptable to all students, so we have push back from both ends of the spectrum,” says Twyla Leigh, nutritionist for Collier County Public Schools in Naples, Fla. “They’re either ‘too healthy’ or not organic/vegan/scratch-cooking enough.”

Leigh admits school nutrition professionals realize that “one size does not fit all” and continue to seek out manufacturers of better tasting, healthy options, even as they are “challenged with labor issues, food safety concerns and balanced budgets.”

“School nutrition programs are expected to be self-supporting, paying for all food, labor, uniforms, equipment, water, electricity, gas, trash pick-up, payroll and human resource services.”

That according to Leigh and colleagues Terri Whitacre, director of school food and nutrition services for the Charlotte County Public School System in Punta Gorda, Fla., and Stacey Wykoski, foodservice director for the Jenison/Hudsonville School Food Service group in Jenison, Mich.

The three provide recommendations that manufacturers “should avoid MSG, high-fructose corn syrup, nitrates and items that are known to be issues in the food supply.” They also believe that GMOs are going to be a “big topic” moving forward. “Manufacturers also need to take the lead in better food labels: sugar listed on a label should refer to added sugars, not natural and added combined,” they note.

Food allergens also will become more challenging with the increase in children who have food intolerances or allergies, says Leigh. “Gluten and peanuts are big issues with school-age children. Being involved with national ingredient and food label access, even with scanners and a more usable way to obtain this information, to link it to the school menus would be a huge victory for manufacturers, school nutrition and the children.”

Waste not

There are huge challenges facing any program designed to feed wholesome, desirable meals five days per week to hundreds of kids at a time in three or more 30 minute blocs around the noon hour. The biggest, perhaps, is an endless schoolyard tug-of-war between the cost of production and the staggering cost of plate waste.

Infinity Retail Café Renovation and Expansion at Aurora Medical Center Kenosha in Kenosha, Wis.

A small linear retail location barely met the needs of visitors and staff at Aurora Medical Center Kenosha for many years. But an ever-expanding outpatient population paired with the hospital’s expansion to 73 inpatient beds eventually rendered the existing space insufficient.

Aurora-Kenosha-Cafeteria-and-Servery-1The mobile cash register station can be moved to the end of the hot food station. This allows the entire retail area to remain open and staffed with one person during weekends and evenings when transactions are low. Photo courtesy of Zimmerman Architectural Studios, Milwaukee, Wis.“The café was outdated, selections were limited due to café design and equipment necessity, customer flow was congested and café seating was limited,” says Bruce Parker, system retail and catering manager, Aurora System food and nutrition services. “We wanted a café with a fresh new look and to expand the space to disperse retail customers more evenly. And we wanted to create a retail experience that would help drive higher revenues and increase customer satisfaction.”

Finding the space to expand and meet goals of what was named Infinity Café proved challenging for the project team. “The coffee shop had a linear shape with only one service line, and back access only to bakery and cold cases,” says Christine Guyott, FCSI, RD, principal at Robert Rippe & Associates, the project’s foodservice design consultant. “Therefore, the space didn’t allow staff to change to self-serve options in low-volume traffic periods. Additional space was critically needed to make this into a right-size retail café.”

However, the project could not add any additional space to the building, so the design team used a former seating space to enlarge the servery to 1,235 square feet. The café also includes a 1,500-square-foot seating area that can accommodate 88 people. A corridor divides the seating area in half, yet allows natural light to penetrate into both areas. A new café feature is a private dining room.

Five Stations and Versatile Equipment

Aurora-Kenosha-Cafeteria-and-Servery-2Creative planning, such as shaping the salad bar to fit in a limited amount of space, opens up space for multiple menu options. Photo courtesy of Zimmerman Architectural StudiosThe larger space allows for increased and better traffic flow, giving customers much more room to see menu options, which also increased substantially. For example, a grill station with a flattop features a new gourmet burger concept called Hungry Burgers as well as daily specials. The entrée station contains an exhibition action station featuring healthy entrées and salads made to order.

Another popular new feature, the display cooking station, necessitated adding an exhaust hood onto the existing building. “This was the biggest challenge so we added it toward the back where it could be the most easily accommodated,” Guyott says.

A new sub concept named First Edition Grinders adds to menu items available in a deli area that also features specials made to order. Naan Za, a new gourmet pizza concept, features naan pizza crust with a variety of toppings.

The hot food and deli stations back up to the kitchen. The positioning allows staff to easily replenish the stations’ food items via a pass-through hot/cold unit from the adjacent kitchen. Refrigeration sits beneath the grill, flattop and charbroiler providing staff with easy access to ingredients during production. Refrigerated prep tables at the hot station and sandwich station also contribute to staff easily moving cold food prep from the kitchen into this space during down times.

Aurora medical center dining-RoomCustomers can choose among 88 dining seats, including single countertop seats overlooking the exterior courtyard, 2-tops for more privacy, banquettes of 2 or 4 for flexibility, a large table for group settings and several 4-tops. Photo courtesy of Aurora Medical Center Kenosha; photography by Bruce ParkerStaff working at the hot food and deli stations use high speed ovens as an alternative to fryers, versatile hot and cold wells, pass-through hot/cold units, open-air merchandising units, shaped steam pan inserts and serving casserole pans.

“Space was still limited so there was a focus on the use of lineal countertop space for merchandising,” Guyott says. “We designed a uniquely shaped salad bar that customers access for salad on the front side and snacks on the back side.” Customers can select from 40 rotating and occasionally themed menu items at the salad bar, which contains color-coated aluminum inserts.

The café also features a dessert station and cold and hot beverages.

Another labor-saving solution puts the cash register station on wheels so staff can move it to the end of the hot food station. “This allows the entire retail area to remain open and staffed with one person during weekends and evenings when transactions are low,” Guyott says.

The renovation generated a 33 percent increase in retail revenue during the past year. “Traffic is up in part by the addition of a new cashless employee-debit system and the acceptance of credit card transactions in the café,” Parker says. With the realization that staffing resources will continue to be crucial to support the new café, he adds, “This renovation project demonstrates that with sound planning and great project partners, an investment like this is bound to pay dividends both in increased revenue and customer satisfaction and loyalty.”

Facts of Note

  • Size of Hospital: 73 beds
  • Daily retail meal transactions: 360 average; up to 450 peak
  • Average check: $4.14
  • Hours of operation: 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday through Friday; 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday
  • Staffing: 2 until 10:30 a.m.; 3 from 10:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m.; 4 for lunch from 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m.; 3 until 2:30 p.m.; 2 until 3 p.m.; and 1 from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
  • Website:


  • At Aurora Kenosha: Lisa Schairer, director of support services; Bruce Parker, corporate retail and catering manager, Aurora System food and nutrition service; Margaret Muske, site leader
  • Foodservice design: Robert Rippe & Associates, Minneapolis; Christine Guyott, FCSI, RD, principal; Joy Enge, RD, senior equipment specialist; and Amy Fick, senior project manager.
  • Architect: Zimmerman Architectural Studios, Milwaukee
  • Equipment dealer: Boelter Companies, Milwaukee

Cafeteria software helps schools curb food waste

Wordware’s School Lunch Software, Point of sale software can help cut down on wasted food.

Wasted food is a significant problem for food service establishments, especially public school cafeterias. Food can only be left out for a certain amount of time and excess is tossed. Plate waste is also an issue, as students take more than they often eat. While donating the extra to food banks seems to be one option, legal and health considerations make that infeasible.

Those at some of the nation’s largest school districts have sought to tackle the problem. Teresa Wantabe discusses the situation at Los Angeles Unified and the steps administration has taken in a Los Angeles Times article. The nation’s second-largest school system, Los Angeles Unified serves 650,000 meals a day. However, food waste is a real problem for the district.

“Students throw out at least $100,000 worth of food a day — and probably far more, according to estimates by David Binkle, the district’s food services director,” writes Wantabe. “That amounts to $18 million a year — based on a conservative estimate of 10% food waste — which Binkle says would be far better spent on higher-quality items, such as strawberries or watermelon.”

California schools are not the only districts struggling with wasted food. Forty-percent of all of the lunches served in Boston Public Schools are wasted. Moreover, it’s a problem that extends beyond schools. Nationwide, the annual cost of food waste is more than $1 billion.

While food waste is an issue that affects many service establishments, it is particularly pronounced at schools. They are also in the greatest need of solutions, as they meet new government health and nutrition regulations. New guidelines, for example, require that cafeterias serve fresh produce and fruit. Yet, this can be expensive and much of it is being wasted.

According to Cornell University and Brigham Young University’s 2013 research of 15 Utah schools, extra produce, including fruits and vegetables, costs school districts $5.4 million each day. However, $3.8 million of it is being tossed out into the trash.

Cafeteria point of sale software can help schools cut down on wasted food. Food cost calculation software can also help administrators figure out costs and make the best use of their food and nutrition budget.

Kids’ lunch money lost less often in cashless cafeteria lines

More school districts converting to cashless cafeterias nationwide

By Steve Holt

The days of sending children to school with their lunch money neatly wrapped in handkerchiefs or inside their shoe or pocket is quickly giving way to a new cashless lunch payment system.

Kids' lunch money lost less often
Cash no more: Students at Fairfield High School in Texas check out of the lunch line with biometric fingerprint scanners. Their lunch accounts are automatically debited and track their purchases.

Photo by Caitlin Neal, Eagle Publications

Following a national trend toward credit card-based cashless transactions for everything from taxicabs to bail, more school districts across the country are adopting automated school lunch payment systems. Instead of fumbling through their pockets for dollar bills or change to pay for lunch, elementary, middle and high school students are increasingly breezing through the lunch line — some swiping or waving bar-coded student ID cards or punching PIN numbers on a keypad and others scanning their fingerprints on biometric readers.

Keeping track
“It tracks who bought what, when,” says Crystal Thill, food service director for the Fairfield Independent School District, located southeast of Dallas. Almost all of the district’s 1,800 students use a Web-based account system that allows parents to use credit cards or debit cards to replenish lunchroom accounts and monitor their children’s meal plans.

“Parents enjoy being able to go online to check students’ balances and monitor what the students are eating. It’s a great way to keep track of everything,” Thill says.

Lost their lunch money? A bully took it? Those familiar complaints of old are fading. Schools that have launched automated payment systems often still have traditional cash registers on hand to accept cash. School lunchroom administrators say dumping those old-style cash registers helps speed the lunchroom lines in a country where, according to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 5.2 billion school lunches were served every school day in 2008.

A June 2009 survey of more than 1,200 nutrition directors from school districts across the country found that 69.5 percent were currently using some form of automated lunch payments, up from 62 percent in May 2007. Another 6 percent indicated they would implement a system within 12 months, up from 4.4 percent in 2007. Also, 8.5 percent said they were considering converting to an automated payment system, according to the survey conducted by the School Nutrition Association, an Alexandria, Va.-based nonprofit group representing more than 55,000 school lunch providers nationwide.

Automated lunch payments
The survey noted the greatest change in payment methods was more school districts accepting credit cards and debit cards via the Internet. The number of respondents reporting this type of automated payment rose from 16.4 percent in 2005 to 35.8 percent in 2007 to 63.8 percent in 2009.

“As more and more business processes are conducted via the ‘Net through electronic transactions, this will certainly grow,” says Mitch Johns, president and CEO of Food Service Solutions Inc. (, the Altoona, Pa., company that develops the software used in the Fairfield, Texas, lunchrooms. Story continues below.

May 2007 June 2009
Type of automated payment System currently in use (%) System planned in next 12 months (%) System currently in use (%) System planned in next 12 months (%)
Cash or check mailed or taken to school 91.9 67.3 86.1 53.4
Credit card or debit card via Internet 35.8 59.6 63.8 74.0
Automated payment from checking account 12.3 15.4 19.0 17.8
Credit or debit card via mail, phone or fax 7.7 11.5 8.7 6.8
Credit card or debit card at point of sale 3.4 7.7 4.7 9.6
Other payment 0.7 0 0.8 0
Source: School Nutrition Association, June 2009 survey of school district nutrition directors. The data is limited to districts that have an automated payment system currently in use or those that have plans to implement in the upcoming 12 months.

The company serves 300 school districts nationwide through its online account management system, Parents sign up on a website to view their children’s lunch account. Information on what students bought for lunch, how much it cost and when their balances drop below certain levels is available 24 hours a day. Parents can reload the accounts credit cards or debit cards linked to their checking accounts.

Alternatives to cash
As an alternative to sending little Johnny or Suzy to school with cash to pay for lunch, many school districts allow parents to send paper checks, but this doesn’t eliminate the possibility of children losing checks en route to school. A lunchroom account manager collects the checks (although sometimes homeroom teachers are charged with gathering up lunch money and checks from students in lower grades). Paper checks may take several days to be credited to the student’s lunch account.

Johns, the Food Service Solutions CEO, school districts pay $5,000 plus $1,000 per cafeteria in software fees to install his company’s automated system and another $1,800 to $3,000 per cash register for hardware. Additionally, parents pay a transaction fee of between 3 percent and 6 percent to add funds to an account using a credit card, and a flat rate of $1.50 for all ACH debit transfers, regardless of the amount.

According to Galen Reigh,’s system administrator and lead developer, each school district decides how it will allow parents to pay for lunches. “Some school districts do what we call ACH payments, and some school districts do credit card payments and some do both,” Reigh says.

Another automated lunch payment provider — New Jersey-based — allows parents to use its website to pay for more than just meals. School activities such as community education classes, after-school care, athletic events, donations, summer school and transportation are among the student payments that can be processed online.

Four to five years from now, the majority of the parents will pay online not only for school lunch, but for all school activities.

— Dov Abramson,
PayPAMS operations manager

“More and more parents have access to high speed Internet access and are getting familiar with online payments,” says Dov Abramson, operations manager at PayPAMS (Payment Account Management System). The company contracts with school districts in 23 states, including Miami-Dade County, Fla., San Diego and Prince George’s County, Md . “Four to five years from now, the majority of the parents will pay online not only for school lunch, but for all school activities.”

Parents like convenience
Parents say they like the peace of mind that cashless lunch payment brings because they know exactly how their money is being spent.

“It is certainly better than giving the children money to buy lunch,” says Tom Miller, who enrolled a middle schooler in the PayPAMS program in Miami-Dade County schools, the nation’s fourth largest school district.

More privacy
Proponents of the payment systems point to another advantage of cashless cafeterias. How much each student pays for lunch is kept private. In districts where students from low-income families receive reduced priced or free lunches, they are scanned through checkout like all other students. Classmates in line behind them do not know these students are receiving reduced priced meals — a potential source of embarrassment for some students and families.

Automated payments are not perfect, however. Students can still lose their ID cards or reveal their PIN to others who can fraudulently debit their accounts. The fingerprint scans help reduce the likelihood of these things happening.

Both PayPAMS and Food Service Solutions say parents are spreading the word about their services and asking school districts to set up online lunch payment accounts.

Says Reigh, the developer: “We’re getting more and more calls from school districts that want to get in the system and as parents learn about it, they say, ‘Hey, we want to do that too.'”

A taste of school lunches around world

A taste of school lunches around world


View photos

Assorted lunch plates are arranged at a table for students at the Bahria Foundation school in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Tuesday, May 6, 2014. Most of the kids seen there have home cooked food for lunch. Principal Syeda Arifa Mohsin says the school tries to dissuade parents from fixing junk food for their children. “If we discover that a child has junk food, we ask his or her parents to please make a little effort for their child’s health,” Mohsin says. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

SEATTLE (AP) — First lady Michelle Obama is on a mission to make American school lunches healthier by replacing greasy pizza and french fries with whole grains, low fat protein, fresh fruit and vegetables.

The Associated Press helps you compare her efforts in the United States with what kids are eating around the globe by sending photographers to see what kids in Asia, Europe, Africa and Latin America ate for lunch this week.

The new American standards are giving kids in the United States a taste of the good life already experienced by school children around the world. Most countries put a premium on feeding school children a healthy meal at lunchtime.

Many kids go home to eat lunch with their families or bring a lunch cooked by their parents.

Although few schools sell lunch, snacks are available around the world. In many places those snacks are as unhealthy as treats in the United States: fried doughnuts in Mali and Pakistan, candy in the West Bank, fried chicken nuggets in France.

American children are more likely to eat a lunch made in a school cafeteria, although other countries are starting to adopt this practice as more mothers go to work outside the home.

In France, lunch is an art form: hot, multi-course and involving vegetables. While their mothers were at work Tuesday, children in Lambersart in northern France were served ratatouille, salmon, rice, a chunk of baguette and an orange.

Healthy lunches are offered in public school cafeterias in the United Arab Emirates but the children of foreigners attending private schools get fancier, multi-cultural offerings like American barbecue, Indian curries and Asian noodles.

Cuba provides all students with free school lunches, typically featuring rice, beans, another source of protein like a hard-boiled egg, a vegetable such as a sliced tomato and arroz con leche for dessert. Many parents send their children off to school with extra vegetables or a piece of fish or chicken to complement the free lunch.

Fresh food is also on the menu at the DEL-Care Edu Center in downtown Singapore, where students are fed breakfast, lunch and even dinner if their parents work late. Typical lunches include spaghetti marinara, fish slices, chicken casserole or lotus root soup.

Kids usually bring a home-cooked meal to school in Pakistan, where school leaders check lunch boxes for junk food and admonish parents to keep things healthy. A typical sack lunch at The Bahria Foundation school in Rawalpindi, adjacent to the capital, Islamabad, includes eggs, chicken nuggets, bread, rice or noodles. Some also include leftovers such as minced mutton and vegetables cooked the night before.

Ecuadorean children bring sack lunches to school, typically a sandwich, juice, yogurt, cookies and piece of fruit.

In Federal Way, Washington, schools have embraced the first lady’s lunch campaign for the approximately 16,000 children who get a school-made lunch each day.

At Mirror Lake Elementary, about 20 miles south of Seattle, students ate grilled cheese sandwiches, corn salad, fresh carrots, apple sauce and low-fat milk on Monday. The bread was whole grain, the cheese low fat and low sodium, the carrots fresh and fruit the only dessert.

Fried food, white bread, sugar-laden desserts and overcooked vegetables have all but disappeared from the American school menu.

Anything kids can pick up with their fingers is popular in the younger grades. High school students enjoy some spicy and exotic choices, especially Asian flavors, says Federal Way chef and dietitian Adam Pazder.


AP reporters Ali Akbar Dareini in Tehran, Iran, Baba Ahmed in Bamako, Mali, Zeina Karam in Beirut, Lebanon, Josef Federman in Jerusalem, Israel, Sameer Yacoub in Baghdad, Iraq, Nasser Nasser in Ramallah, West Bank, Adam Schreck in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Angela Charlton in Paris and Anjum Naveed in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, Delores Ochoa from Ecuador, and photographers Wong Maye-E in Singapore and Franklin Reyes in Havana, Cuba, contributed to this story.


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Free and reduced school lunch applications now online

VINELAND – The school district is not mailing out free or price-reduced lunch applications this year, instead it’s asking parents/guardians to apply online.

This is another online service the district can now offer through PCS Revenue Systems, the district’s food service accounting software, said Helen Haley, the district’s business administrator.

Previously, the school district included an application with a parent notification letter about the lunch program. When the applications came back, she said, the information was cross-referenced with the district’s student database and manually typed in by staff.

Now, the applications will be electronically entered, she said.

About 6,000 students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, said Purvesh Patel, the Sodexo food service director for Vineland Public Schools.

Parents fill out one electronic application per household, Patel said, noting the applications are available in English and Spanish.

The online applications are available by clicking here:

“People can do it on their phone it is so easy,” Haley said.

It’s a secure website and a Social Security number is not requested on the application, Patel said. The school district processes the applications, which are then subject to review by State of New Jersey auditors to prevent fraud.

The online application process is an expansion of the district’s PayPams program.

Last year, the district used it to roll out an online application that allows parents to use credit cards to prepay for student lunches, set spending limits for their children and monitor their child’s school lunch purchases.

Going to an online system saves the district labor, paper and bulk mailing costs, Haley said. It also improves accuracy, she said, noting any discrepancies caught during a state review are noted in the district’s annual audit.

The free and reduced-price lunch application is now available online. Parents are urged to submit applications by Sept. 15.

If you’re not sure you qualify, the link does include an income eligibility chart.

The application does request a student identification number but parents do not need to include that at this time and can proceed with the application, Patel said.

Parents will receive a confirmation number when they’ve successfully completed the application.

The school board did vote earlier this month to raise the price of a school lunch.

An elementary school lunch will cost $2.65 and middle/high school lunches will run $2.80 when students return to school in September. However, the price of a reduced lunch remained steady at 40 cents.

For parents who do not have access to a computer or prefer not to file online, paper applications are available at each school or the food service office at 688 N. Mill Road, at the rear of Wallace Intermediate School.

Food service staff will be available 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday at the food service office at Wallace School to help anyone with the application, Haley said.

“This is a great process, it streamlines everything,” Patel said. “If you enter data incorrectly, it will notify you right away that it’s incorrect, so it won’t delay the process and the application.”

Deborah M. Marko; (856) 563-5256; DEBORAH M. MARKO, @dmarko_dj 11:16 a.m. EDT August 21, 2015