Nutrition, Family and Consumer Sciences
University of California
Nutrition, Family and Consumer Sciences

Posts Tagged: Nutrition Policy Institute

USDA school kitchen grants enable kids to make healthy food choices

Children at Ygnacio Elementary School in Concord pick up lunch from a new serving counter.
Thanks to new equipment in school kitchens, made possible by special USDA grants, schools around the country are now serving fresher, healthier and more appealing food to students, according to research by the UC Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI).

"Years of federal neglect have resulted in many poorly equipped school kitchens, making it impossible to serve the nutritious meals that students need, particularly in light of the obesity epidemic that has affected so many youngster," said Kenneth Hecht, NPI coordinator.

During the past six years, Congress provided nearly $200 million to help schools purchase new equipment. Pew Charitable Trusts engaged NPI to see whether the grants enabled schools to make more meals from scratch with locally grown food and lead children to make healthy food choices.

NPI researchers visited 19 schools across the country to see new equipment in action and interview food service professionals, administrators and students. Their report was issued this month by Pew Charitable Trusts.

“Just one new appliance or serving station can have surprising impact on meal programs and students,” Hecht said. “Because of the USDA's School Kitchen Grants, more students are choosing school meals and they are eating more fruits, vegetables and other healthy options.”

The Nutrition Policy Institute, a statewide program that is part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, contracted with Pew to take a close look at a sample of representative schools that received the USDA kitchen equipment grants. The 19 schools – in the states of Kansas, Kentucky, California, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, North Dakota and Maine – were chosen to represent a range of sizes, grade levels and community types (urban, suburban and rural).

One of the schools in the study was Ygnacio Valley Elementary School in Concord, where the worn and dimly lit serving line made meals look lackluster. With the USDA grant, the school purchased a new serving counter with heated and refrigerated serving wells to keep dishes at proper temperatures, a salad bar and under-counter lighting that draws attention to colorful produce and other healthy fare.

“Children are taking and eating more fruits and vegetables because they can actually see how beautiful the food is and get to it easily,” says Megan Webb, the school's food service manager.

Another California school involved in the research, Robertson Intermediate School in Daly City, used the grant funds to purchase a large, three-door refrigerator and a warming oven. The upgrades helped the school increase the number and appeal of its entrée options and made it possible to contract with a different meal vendor for the 2015-16 school year.

“We absolutely needed new equipment; what we had barely functioned,” said Audra Pittman, superintendent of the Bayshore Elementary School District.

“The food is really good,” said one student cafeteria helper. “It's much better than last year.”

 

Posted on Friday, June 17, 2016 at 8:45 AM

USDA puts more fruits and veggies, less sugar in new child-care nutrition standards

Young children and adults in care programs will now receive meals with more whole grains, a greater variety of vegetables and fruits, and less added sugars and solid fats. These changes please Lorrene Ritchie, Ph.D., RD, director of the Nutrition Policy Institute in the University of California's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR).

“I applaud USDA's decisions to increase servings of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, cereals low in sugar, and healthy beverages, including breastfeeding,” said Ritchie, who has devoted her career to the development of interdisciplinary, science-based and culturally relevant solutions to child obesity.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released new nutrition standards in April for food and beverages served to young children and others in child care settings that participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Through CACFP, more than 3.3 million children and 120,000 adults receive nutritious meals and snacks at day care, afterschool centers and emergency shelters. The final rule is intended to better align the nutritional quality of meals and snacks provided under the program with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Lorrene Ritchie
“These new, science-based standards carry the program a long way forward from meal patterns that have been essentially unchanged since the program's introduction in 1968,” wrote Ritchie in a letter of support to USDA.

At USDA's behest, the Institute of Medicine convened a committee of eminent nutrition researchers to develop science-based recommendations for CACFP meals and snacks that meet the challenge of the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010: to align the CACFP standards with the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

“USDA has taken the IOM's recommendations and translated them into nutrition standards that help address obesity and overweight as well as food insecurity. The new standards are straightforward for childcare sponsors and providers and impose no new, added costs,” said Ritchie, who is also a UC Cooperative Extension nutrition specialist.

This update to CACFP standards is an important step toward ensuring that young children have access to the nutrition they need and develop healthy habits that will contribute to their well-being over the long term, Kevin Concannon, USDA undersecretary, said in announcing the new standards.

“Research indicates that America's obesity problem starts young, with obesity rates in preschoolers more than doubling over the last three decades and one in eight preschoolers classified as obese,” Concannon said. “Since taste preference and eating habits develop early in life, CACFP could play a crucial role in the solution.”

Ritchie, who has conducted studies on the impact of policy on nutrition practices in child care settings, thinks USDA's process for developing the new nutrition standards is effective.

“The new meal patterns demonstrate that the process for regularly updating nutrition standards in the federal food programs, using evidence-based IOM recommendations, is working well,” she said. “The new CACFP standards should make a significant beneficial contribution to the health and development of the nation's young children.”

The NPI director, who has led a push to persuade the government to make water the drink of choice in the dietary guidelines and add an icon for water on the MyPlate food guide, also praised USDA's authorization of reimbursement for the expenses involved in providing bottled water in the rare instances when tap water is not potable.

“UC Nutrition Policy Institute has a special commitment to expanding children's consumption of drinking water,” Ritchie said.

The UC Nutrition Policy Institute's mission is to improve nutrition and reduce obesity, hunger and chronic disease risk in children and their families in diverse settings. NPI provides nutrition policy leadership built from UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' numerous research, and education activities, and works in synergy with research and outreach efforts being conducted throughout the University of California system.

 

Posted on Tuesday, April 26, 2016 at 9:10 AM

Farm to fingers: Schools provide fresh fruits and vegetables for children’s meals

Congress considers reauthorization of the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010.

If fresh fruits and vegetables are made available, children will choose to eat them.
Several grade school students set down their forks to eat their green salad, picking up individual lettuce leaves with their fingers and pushing them into their mouths. Not that I was there to judge for style, it was just an observation as I looked around the cafeteria festooned in colorful hand-cut paper banners to see how many of the kids had taken a salad.

The youngsters are required to take at least a half-cup serving of fresh fruits or vegetables as part of a healthful meal to meet national nutrition standards, but I noticed they were voluntarily eating the fresh leafy greens and orange slices.

The children had selected the food themselves from a new serving line, which was made possible by a grant from the USDA aimed at encouraging children to eat healthier school lunches. U.S. Department of Agriculture has been providing a new round of grants since 2013 to upgrade kitchen and cafeteria equipment. Ygnacio Valley Elementary School is in Mount Diablo Unified School District, which received a USDA grant.

About one-third of children in California are overweight or obese, which is associated with serious health risks.

According to The Pew Charitable Trusts, 93 percent of school districts in California, and 88 percent nationwide, need at least one piece of equipment to better serve students nutritious foods.

Students serve themselves in Ygnacio Valley Elementary School's new serving line. When the children select their own food, less food gets thrown away.
With Pew funding, the Nutrition Policy Institute in the University of California's Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources is conducting case studies of selected California schools, including Ygnacio Valley Elementary School, to evaluate the effects of the USDA grants program.

Kenneth Hecht, director of policy for the Nutrition Policy Institute organized the Sept. 3 visit to the Mount Diablo Unified School District for Congressman Mark DeSaulnier and USDA executives to see the improvements.

A student's lunch tray. Photo by Deanna Davis.
The school district serves about 20,000 meals each day, nearly half of which (46.2 percent) are free or reduced price for children from low-income families. By replacing a refrigerator bought in 1973 with a new walk-in refrigerator, the central kitchen is able to store and serve twice as much fresh produce while saving energy and energy costs, said Anna Fisher, director of Food and Nutrition Services for Mount Diablo Unified.

The new serving line allows for food to be displayed so the children can select their own food, whereas before, each tray was filled by a server and handed to the students.

“We've seen that when the children select their own food, less food gets thrown away,” said Fisher.

“The examples we are seeing at Mount Diablo Unified School District are perfect illustrations of what these USDA grants can do, from the procurement of food to serving healthy meals to children,” said Hecht.

Ken Hecht, left, Mark DeSaulnier, center, and Jesus Mendoza, USDA Western Region administrator, check out the new walk-in refrigerator.
“At the central kitchen, the modern walk-in refrigerator holds the large quantities of fresh produce the district needs to cook on-site fresh, healthy meals and to keep the salad bars fully stocked,” he said. “The new serving line at the elementary school means the kids can move quickly through the line, pick up fresh food at just the right temperature, and have maximal time at the table to eat.”

Congressman DeSaulnier, who ate lunch with the students, is sponsoring the School Food Modernization Act (HR 3316) to continue and strengthen the USDA grants program.

Another piece of federal legislation aimed at improving child nutrition is the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which includes farm to school support and expires on Sept. 30, 2015.

“This fall is a pivotal time for the future of Farm to School programs across the country,” said Gail Feenstra, deputy director of the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SAREP) in the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

RUSD's Chef Ryan shows visitors his summer salad made fresh from local produce.
On Sept. 2, SAREP and the Urban Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College hosted a tour of farm-to-school sites in the Riverside Unified School District where Los Angeles-area participants were able to meet with farmers, school chefs, food service directors, advocates, researchers and elementary students and to witness firsthand the benefits and challenges of providing farm-fresh fruits and vegetables to Southern California schoolchildren.

Riverside schools have transitioned from heating prepackaged meals to buying local produce and preparing fresh food on-site.

According to Kirsten Roloson, director of Nutrition Services, and Adleit Asi, operations manager, Riverside Unified now buys $400,000 worth of produce from local farmers. One farmer, Bob Knight, who supplies oranges and other produce to Riverside Unified, said he's making five to seven times more money selling to schools than he did before. 

“Farm-to-school programs increase access to fresh, healthy produce among school children while also supporting local farms,” said Feenstra. In California, she noted that 2,626 schools participate in farm-to-school programs, serving 1.8 million students and buying more than $51 million in produce from local California farmers.

Feenstra will be leading a similar farm-to-school tour for policymakers in Sacramento on Sept. 29.

Riverside Unified School District's produce is purchased fresh and whole from local farms and prepared in-house.
Mount Diablo Unified School District is also a recipient of a USDA Farm to School Planning Grant.  “We will be hosting Life Lab to spend a day training teachers at Sequoia Elementary School on Sept. 21,” Fisher said. “We hope to get an implementation grant.”

"With new equipment and fresh produce, schools can prepare healthy and more appealing school meals that may be the most nutritious meal a child receives that day," Hecht said.

Whether children eat with forks or fingers, the nutritional quality of the food they eat can affect their lives, long term.

The University of California Global Food Initiative aims to put the world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feed itself. By building on existing efforts and creating new collaborations among UC's 10 campuses, affiliated national laboratories and the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the initiative will develop and export solutions for food security, health and sustainability throughout California, the United States and the world.

Posted on Tuesday, September 8, 2015 at 12:11 PM

NPI study: Law improves beverage environment in California childcare

Childcare providers must serve only fat-free or low-fat unsweetened, plain milk for kids two years or older.
Obesity among preschoolers is a serious health problem, with one in four obese or overweight by the time the child is ready for kindergarten. Given that well over half of preschool age children are in childcare, UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute researchers decided to investigate whether healthy beverage standards in childcare could improve their nutrition. Another reason to focus on this age group is that young children are still developing their eating habits. Those who get an early start at eating a nutritious diet will likely have better health outcomes than children who get in the habit of eating junk food and drinking sugary beverages.

In 2008 and 2012, NPI researchers conducted a survey of more than 400 randomly selected California licensed childcare facilities to look at beverages in childcare before and after California's Healthy Beverages in Child Care Act (AB 2084) took effect in January 2012. Under this law, only fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) unsweetened, plain milk for children two years of age or older is allowed, and no more than one serving per day of 100 percent juice. No sugary drinks are allowed at all. Also, drinking water must be readily available throughout the day, including at all meal, snack and play times.

NPI Director Lorrene Ritchie presented NPI's research findings on June 30 at the 8th Biennial Childhood Obesity Conference in San Diego. The NPI study found that the policy was effective at improving the beverage environment in California childcare. Provision of whole milk dropped from nearly 30 percent of childcare facilities in 2008 to less than 9 percent of facilities 2012. The provision of other beverages also improved. In 2008, 27 percent of facilities offered juice more than once a day, compared to just 20 percent in 2012. Facilities offering any sugar-sweetened beverages dropped from 7.6 percent in 2008 to 6.9 percent in 2012.

“We know the beverages children consume can put a child at risk for overweight and obesity,” said Ritchie. “The good news is that the healthy beverage standards did improve the beverage environment in California childcare. This law impacts potentially a million young children in our state.”

Despite the improved beverage environment, NPI found that only 60 percent of childcare facilities were aware of the law, and only 23 percent were in full compliance with all provisions.

Water is a healthful beverage for children.
“We need to do more to improve the beverage environment,” said Ritchie. “Based on our findings, we recommend that all childcare providers have access to nutrition training so that more understand and are able to comply with California's childcare beverage standards.”

The NPI study also looked at the effects of serving water at the table with meals and snacks.  While this was not a provision of the California law, it is a best practice for teaching children to reach for water first for thirst. Putting water on the table did not have an impact on children's intake of milk and other foods, which was a common concern of providers caring for young children. However, the study found the law didn't make much of a difference in increasing children's water intake either.

“Simply serving water at the table with meals and snacks is not likely to interfere with intake of other healthy things,” said Ritchie. “But we don't know what would happen if water were provided in such a way as to substantively increase water intake.”

The University of California Global Food Initiative aims to put the world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feed itself. By building on existing efforts and creating new collaborations among UC's 10 campuses, affiliated national laboratories and the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the initiative will develop and export solutions for food security, health and sustainability throughout California, the United States and the world.

 

Posted on Tuesday, June 30, 2015 at 12:00 PM

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