Product: Green Food Service, Healthy Lunch, and Farm to School
- Criteria: How Do I Know It's Green?
- Costs: Can I Afford It?
- Green Products: How Do I Find Them?
- Beyond Buying: Other Environmentally Friendly Options
Green Products: How Do I Find Them?
The Green School Lunch Directory provides product information for greener food serviceware that is compostable, biodegradable, or has recycled content, as well as information about healthy school lunch and farm-to-school programs.
To find these green products go here:
Criteria: How Do I Know It's Green?
Wherever possible, purchase fresh, local, organic produce to include in school meals that will help promote healthy food at school and sustainable agricultural practices. This may include food produced without synthetic pesticides and hormones or antibiotics or “certified organic,” as well as criteria like GMO-free, free-range or cage-free, or fair and humane treatment of animals. Develop a healthy lunch program, and promote farm-to-school initiatives for purchasing locally-grown fresh produce.
Look for recycled content in paper and plastic plates, cups, bowls, and cutlery, and/or biodegradability/compostability. Many companies now make kitchenware from biodegradable materials such as potato or corn starch. Consider composting food scraps on school grounds and establishing a school garden. Composting is an environmentally friendly way to dispose of food wastes, and produces a rich soil additive that can be used in school gardens or given to community members. (See Green Schoolyards section for information about school gardens.) You can examine food purchasing policies for additional information about definitions and specifications for sustainable food purchasing, including a guide developed by Food Alliance (See the Green School Lunch Directory for more resources).
Costs: Can I Afford It?
School lunch programs are an important source of nutrition for millions of children who participate in the free and reduced lunch programs supported through federal and state subsidies. The pressures to keep the lunches very low-cost make it difficult for schools to purchase organic food, which often does cost more. However, some schools have found that when fresh food is offered, like salad bars, participation goes up, thereby increasing school lunch revenues. In addition, some schools are finding ways of providing at least some local, organic choices at competitive prices (such as Berkeley and Palo Alto school districts). Also, the 2008 Farm Bill will increase the USDA’s budget for commodity purchasing and shift more of that to fresh produce, which will benefit schools. California’s Fresh Start Program provided additional funding for school meals that included fruits and vegetables and also provided grants to county offices of education. But the pilot program funding has not yet been reauthorized. To learn about the pilot program: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/nu/sn/cfspevalreport.asp
There are several programs that make grants available to support farm-to-school programs. At publication time, congressmen in both the House of Representatives and Senate have sponsored bills to provide one-time grant funds of up to $100,000 per school district to create farm-to-school programs. In addition, some federal government support exists for farm-to-school programs, especially through the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service.
Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) also provides grants to support activities like field trips, classroom visits by farmers, taste-testing local food, school-wide food fairs and local meals, lunchroom composting and recycling, school gardening, curricula enrichment, and art projects focused on themes of food and community. They recently funded the Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch, a pilot program in three elementary schools in Madison, Wisconsin, now entering its second year under a two-year grant.
In the Green School Lunch Directory (above) you will find resources and examples of how to fund healthy school lunch programs. You can also check out our "Greenbacks for Green Schools" compilation of California-based funding sources for schools.
Beyond Buying: Other Environmentally Friendly Options
In the long-term, the goal should be for schools to re-invest in having full kitchens where fresh food can be cooked and served, using durable, reusable foodware that can be washed in commercial dishwashers. This would improve the quality of the food served – compared to the processed, prepared, and packaged fast-food often served now – and would reduce the amount of packaging waste from the daily use of disposable foodware.
In the meantime, many children can bring healthy, waste-free lunches from home. There are many guidelines on how to pack a waste-free lunch and resources for where to find lead-free and PVC-free lunchboxes and lunchbags.
Progressive Kid - great and really stylin' backpacks and some lunch bags.
ReusableBags.com - Reusable bags of all kinds for kids and adults alike.
Laptop Lunches - A whole "Bento Box" system of reusable containers and utensils to pack a healthy and waste-free lunch.
Waste Free Lunches – This site has great info on how to reduce the waste of school lunches.
And to reduce lunch leftovers, compost!
Why Buy Green? - Green Food Service, Healthy Lunch, and Farm to School
School lunches and cafeterias offer enormous opportunities to improve our children's health and the environment. Over the last thirty years, obesity rates for children and adolescents have more than doubled. Dr. Joyce Lee states, “among school-aged children, obese children have a greater than two fold chance of having diabetes compared to children of normal weight.” For children born in the United States in the year 2000, the risk of developing diabetes rose to 30% for boys and 40% for girls.
The federal government issued a mandate, through the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004, to address obesity and promote healthy eating and physical activity. The requirement calls for local school districts to form Wellness Committees and adopt a district Wellness Policy that addresses the quality of meals served at school, the regularity of physical education, and instruction connected to diet and health. The Center for Ecoliteracy, in collaboration with Slow Food USA and the Chez Panisse Foundation, prepared an excellent, sustainability-based, downloadable Model Wellness Policy Guide with language and instructions for drafting a Wellness Policy that places good health at the center of the academic curriculum and the food service program.
Obviously, the food we prepare and serve to students makes a difference in their personal health and there is a growing body of evidence that the quality of food directly affects academic performance. Serving more fresh, unprocessed food is critical, and locally-grown, organic food is healthier than conventional food. The average piece of conventional fruit contains more than twenty pesticides, while organic fruit is far richer in minerals, nutrients and fiber. Many schools have started programs that purchase produce from local farmers to include in school lunches and some schools have even begun to grow their own food (see the Outdoors Section for information about green schoolyards and school gardens). The farm-to-school (or farm-to-cafeteria) movement often brings organic food into schools as a secondary benefit, so schools can serve both local *and* organic food.
There are more than 2,000 farm-to-school programs operating in the U.S., involving nearly 9,000 schools. With the passage of the federal 2008 Farm Bill, schools can now use a local preference in the bid language for procurement of fresh food. Specifically, the language says that “[T]he Secretary of Agriculture shall allow schools to use a geographic preference for the procurement of unprocessed agricultural products, both locally grown and locally raised.” The 2008 Farm Bill also requires the Secretary “to encourage schools to purchase unprocessed agricultural products to the maximum extent practicable and appropriate.” At least eighteen states have also passed legislation that supports farm-to-school programs, including California’s Fresh Start Program that provides some funding as well.
There is also the environmental impact from the waste that is created from school lunches: packaging, utensils, and tons of wasted and uneaten food. When schools use disposable plates, bowls, and cutlery, they contribute to the enormous amount of garbage going into landfills every year, as well as wasting energy and resources and contributing to global warming. There are now green alternatives to paper and plastic kitchenware, conventionally produced food, and food disposal, including biodegradable or recycled-content cutlery and plate ware. Check out our Green School Lunch Directory for information on how to find green food service items, and information about healthy lunch and farm-to-school programs.
Green Buying Tools
"Environmentally Preferable Purchasing" or "Green Purchasing" means integrating environmental and health factors into all procurement policies and decisions. Green purchasing can also save money, protect students and staff, and reduce liability—something schools everywhere should care about.
The following tools will help you get started: