Table Of Contents
In order to ensure that all Advisory Group members share a common base of knowledge regarding the USDA HealthierUS Challenge, since it is the key component of the Action Learning Collaborative, Julie Miekkelson, Regional Director of the USDA Food and Nutrition Services, explained the Challenge and gave examples of how it has been implemented locally. To date, 25 schools in Illinois have received the Challenge's Gold award. Miekkelson also discussed at some length the content of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) food and how the menus have improved significantly due to the advocacy and collaborative work of various organizations. Currently, the CPS menus exceed the requirements of the Challenge.
Participants asked many questions and raised various issues regarding USDA policies and practices in general and, related to the Challenge in particular. Some of the issues were:
- Where is the Department of Education in relation to the Challenge? Are there efforts to mandate the adoption of the Challenge to schools?
- How the various standards relate to each other and work in tandem? The participants wanted to understand the various standards, for instance, those put forward by the Institute of Medicine, the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, Team Nutrition, and Alliance for a Healthier Generation, etc. It was mentioned how there is conflict between the Alliance and USDA' standards. It would be important to devote further time to comprehend the role that USDA could/should play in weaving together these various standards and in providing clear guidance to the people in the field.
- USDA is responsible for implementing many provisions of this new Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.
- There is a need to weave the Farm to School program with the criteria for the Challenge. The next National Survey of Chidren Health, from CDC, is including questions about the Farm to School program. It ties in with the nutrition education.
- For us (USDA) all the vegetables count. We encourage buying local, but USDA is not going to change the recently changed criteria, or make it a requirement in a way that becomes a limiting factor.
- Since the criteria for the Challenge are stringent, schools in low income and underserved communities that serve mostly minority children face bigger obstacles to ready themselves to apply for the Challenge. In that context, it is important to take into account the need to think of increasing access to healthier foods to low income and underserved communities, more than focusing on limiting small fundraising activities that may be conducted with food choices that may not be very healthy. Schools in impoverished communities do not have the choice to forgo the cupcakes and substitute a t-shirt prize instead, and the result is that there would be no fundraising at all.
- There is a need to incorporate native foods in the school lunch program.
At this point it was decided to keep a log of recommendations and concerns to bring to the attention of the USDA officials. The Advisory Group will send a letter to Audrey Rowe, Administrator for the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The list of recommendations appears in Appendix 3.