In honor of October’s National Farm to School Month and National School Lunch Week (October 9-13), let's dive into the importance of school meals as a way to nurture our children’s health and academic achievements.
Originating in 2010, National Farm to School Month encourages schools to incorporate locally sourced foods, including fresh produce and dairy, into their meal programs. This initiative not only supports local farmers but also exposes children to healthier, fresher options. Additionally, National School Lunch Week emphasizes the importance of well-balanced, nutritious meals in the educational setting. Taking place from October 9-13, it serves as a reminder that lunch is crucial for children’s cognitive development and overall well-being. Together, these observances highlight the essential role that nutrition plays in educational success and foster a healthier next generation.
Fueling Minds and Bodies
Your school district's child nutrition department works overtime to ensure kids have balanced and delicious meals that meet dietary guidelines. According to the USDA, school meals:
- Provide a balanced meal: School meals meet one-third of the daily nutrition needs of most children. The school lunch tray contains grains, vegetables, protein, fruits and dairy! You can learn more about balanced meals from MyPlate.
- Help kids learn where their food comes from: Farm-to-school programs are in over 42% of schools, which increases kid's access to locally produced food and learning activities.
- Save time: If you spend 10 minutes per day packing lunch, that adds up to 30 hours each school year!
- Support learning at school: Research shows that kids with healthier eating patterns have better academic performance.
It's no surprise that dairy is a kid favorite. From cheesy pizza to a creamy yogurt parfait, dairy is incredibly versatile. A single serving of milk contains a powerhouse of 13 essential nutrients, including calcium, protein and vitamin D, which are crucial for developing strong bones, teeth, muscles, immunity and sustained energy. By encouraging your child to enjoy dairy products as part of their school meals, you're instilling healthy eating habits that can last a lifetime.
Farm to Tray
You might not know that your child's school milk is produced by local dairy farm families, contributing to the sustainability and resilience of your community's agricultural ecosystem. Dairy farmers’ commitment to kids began in 1915 with the founding of the National Dairy Council and continues today by helping expand access to nutrient-rich foods and feed more kids.
During National Farm to School Month, there are numerous ways to learn about local food and farms, thereby encouraging healthier eating habits and supporting community agriculture. Schools often host educational programs, field trips to local farms and farm-to-table lunch menus to help students understand the journey of food from farm to plate. Parents and community members can get involved by attending local food fairs, farmer’s markets or workshops focused on sustainable agriculture and local food systems. Websites and social media platforms often feature profiles of local farmers, recipes using local produce, and articles that delve into the importance of community-supported agriculture. Overall, the month serves as an educational platform that strengthens the relationship between schools and local farms, aiming to foster a generation of informed, healthy eaters.
Ensuring a Bright Future
As we celebrate National School Lunch Week and Farm to School Month, let's remember the vital role school meals play in our children's education and well-being. By supporting these programs and making informed choices, we not only nourish our kids, but also strengthen our communities and contribute to a healthier, brighter future for all.
More Info - School Meal Access
According to the USDA, Children may be determined “categorically eligible” for free meals through participation in certain Federal Assistance Programs. Children can also qualify for free or reduced-price school meals based on household income and family size. Children from families with incomes at or below 130% of the Federal poverty level are eligible for free meals.
Next steps to learn more about school meals:
- Visit your school district website for more information on school menus and how to apply for free or reduced school meals
- Learn more about the School Breakfast/Lunch Program and all the child nutrition programs by contacting your state agency
- Visit your school district website and look for school meals or the nutrition department
You might ask who we are and why we are so passionate about school meals. Nutrition NOW is a full-service solution presented by Dairy MAX, your local dairy council representing more than 900 dairy farm families across eight states. We support school nutrition programs by enhancing and elevating school meal operations to ensure all children have access to the nutritious meals they deserve. Dairy MAX’s school wellness experts work directly with school districts by providing customized consulting, marketing and funding that help expand access to nutrient-rich school meals and feeding more students.