It is important to examine how the national school meal programs, which feed roughly half the country’s school-age population every school day, can contribute to preventing childhood obesity. Although the USDA’s Child Nutrition Commodity Program offers many nutritious options to school districts, previous research has shown that schools primarily order foods high in fat that fail to meet standards set by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In addition, previously unexamined aspects of the commodity program may also affect the nutritional quality and cost of the school meal, such as the practice of diverting food to commercial food processors before delivery to schools. This study will identify policy opportunities to ensure that schools use commodity foods to offer the most nutritious meals at the lowest cost. The study will compare the nutrient profiles of commodity foods processed into heat-and-serve entrees with entrees prepared on site from minimally processed commodities (scratch cooked), identify cost differences between the two methods, and examine differences in the overall nutritional quality of menus served in districts using heat-and-serve versus scratch-cooked entrees. Working with 10 California school districts, the investigators will conduct nutrient analyses, an econometric cost analysis, key informant interviews, and a convening of experts and policy-makers for the presentation of the study’s findings and the development of policy recommendations.
Assessing the Effects of the Federal Commodities Program on School Meals for Children in Lower-Income Communities
Is Scratch-Cooking a Cost-Effective Way to Prepare Healthy School Meals with U.S. Department of Agriculture Foods?
This paper examines whether school lunch entrees made in a district from basic or raw U.S. Department of Agriculture Foods ingredients can be healthier and/or less expensive to prepare than those sent to external processers. Information on the nutritional content and cost to prepare entrees was gathered through interviews with … More
Evaluation of the USDA FINI Program Finds Benefits for Consumers, Farmers and Retailers, and Local Economies
In December 2018, Congress passed a new farm bill which included a reauthorization of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Grant Program. This brief summarizes the findings of a recent qualitative evaluation of FINI, which concludes that the program has benefits for consumers, farmers and … More
This Brief summarizes select characteristics of state-level policies and programs to test for lead in school drinking water. It is based on a study from researchers at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and the University of California Nutrition Policy Institute. The full results of the study, … More