When my kids’ Houston school district instituted a free in-class breakfast program five years ago, it did so for all the right reasons. Over 80 percent of the students were coming from economically disadvantaged homes, and the district understood that hungry children simply can’t learn effectively. And while Houston had long offered free breakfast in the cafeteria before the first school bell, a variety of obstacles—parents’ work schedules, late school buses, even feelings of shame and stigma—had kept a significant number of hungry kids away. Read more
As millions of students around the nation return to school cafeterias this month, Congress will begin to make some important decisions about what exactly those students will be eating in the years to come.
The “Child Nutrition Reauthorization” (CNR) takes place every five years and shapes federal legislation that authorizes and funds the National School Lunch Program and other key child nutrition programs. But the CNR involves more than just pro forma approval of these long-standing programs. It also gives lawmakers an opening to review—and potentially alter—child nutrition policy. Read more
Readers trust the opinions of their favorite “mom bloggers”; many buy products and services based solely on their recommendation. Recognizing the inherent value of this online word of mouth, corporations now court these writers as potential brand ambassadors, offering them everything from samples and free trips to outright payments to try to harness their social media clout. By one estimate, all of those perquisites and fees add up to a trillion dollar business. Read more
When it comes to marketing to children, the food industry has long argued that it should regulate itself. In fact, 12 of the largest food companies in the world–including Coca-Cola, Kraft, Mars, McDonalds, and Nestlé—belong to a coalition that years ago established the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), a voluntary effort by the leading food and beverage companies to rein in their marketing of unhealthy foods and drinks to kids. Read more
Many parents have trouble accessing school food ingredient lists, and when they do, they’re often appalled by what they learn. They might expect to find chemical additives in snacks, such as Hot Cheetos, but it can be surprising to learn, as one parent who contacted me recently did, that a chicken sandwich entreé can contain upwards of 60 ingredients. Read more
Now, federal daycare meals are about to get their first nutritional overhaul since 1968. Under the same 2010 legislation mandating healthier school meals, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was charged with coming up with improved standards for the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), the program that oversees daycare food as well as meals served in after-school snack programs, adult group homes, and similar facilities.
The McDonald’s corporation has lately fallen on hard times, enduring seven straight months of declining domestic sales, a food safety scandal involving its Chinese meat supplier, politically motivated restaurant closures in Russia, even a Consumer Reports survey ranking its burgers as the “worst in America.” So on a December 10th conference call, McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson and U.S. President Mike Andres sought to reassure skittish McDonald’s investors by outlining a seven-point plan to turn around the troubled corporation.
Imagine a daycare center serving your child doughnuts or Pop Tarts and then demanding proof of your child’s medical “disability” when you ask to send healthier food from home. As bizarre as that scenario may sound, it’s one that parents around the country may face if they send their children to daycare centers participating in the federal Child and Adult Food Care Program (CACFP). Read more
Back in November, 2010, only a few months after starting The Lunch Tray, I wrote about running my children’s elementary school Election Day bake sale. In that post I expressed a little bit of ambivalence about selling sweets to raise money — ambivalence that would evolve over the next four years into outright activism against junk food in schools — but at the time I was clearly charmed by the old-timey, innocent feel of the event. I wrote:
. . . . the bake sale I’m running today couldn’t be more Norman Rockwell: there are flags and buntings everywhere, kids clamoring to take a turn behind the cash box, and almost all the goods are homemade.