What Back-To-School Means for Food Insecure NYC Public School Kids
August 30, 2015 by Lori Diamond Nersesian
This time of year is always so bittersweet as summer winds down and back-to-school kicks into high gear, ushering in the first signs of fall. The last of the succulent berries at farmer’s markets give way to heartier root vegetables, and beach bags are begrudgingly unpacked, sunscreen and goggles replaced by backpacks, books and lunchboxes.
Lunchboxes, at least, for the kids who know when and what they’re eating next.
The number of food insecure families in New York City hovers around 20%—affecting 474,000 children. In fact, three-quarters of NYC public school students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunch, yet only one-third participate in the program due to the stigma or complexity of paperwork for some parents.
Incidentally, these same kids also qualify for school breakfast, which until recently, had low participation rates because it was served solely inside the cafeteria—which meant kids who were late to school missed out on their most important meal of the day! Starting this fall, breakfast in NYC public schools will be served in the classroom, making it easier for kids to feed their bellies AND their brains.
In 2012, the National School Lunch Program received a nutritional overhaul to comply with the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, spearheaded by First Lady, Michelle Obama. More whole grains, low-fat dairy and vegetables, accompanied by less fat, salt, sugar and calorie maximums, are the hallmarks of the program, established to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic in this country.
In fact, two NYC public schools have gone strictly vegetarian and their attendance and performance records are exemplary! NYC is also one of six states to join the Urban School Food Alliance, a nationwide coalition bringing antibiotic-free chickens and other healthy best practices to the largest school district cafeterias across the nation.
ATE had the privilege of partnering with one upper west side grade school this year, PS 84, which along with a comprehensive garden curriculum for all grade levels, implemented a ‘Fifth Grade Nutrition Rootcamp’ to help prepare graduating students make better food choices by diving deeper into nutrition sciences via simple hands-on food prep and sampling. PS 84 even won a Silver Excellence in School Wellness award from the NYC Department of Education for their program, which we were so proud to help fund.
What does back-to-school look like in your kids’ cafeteria?