School Lunches Need to Change

US – Providing healthier lunches to students was a key topic at a food policy conference in Chicago. Chicken was specifically addressed as one of the items that need to change, writes Chris Wright, Senior Editor of ThePoultrySite.
calendar icon 22 March 2011
clock icon 4 minute read

School lunch programmes were a key issue discussed as part of the FamilyFarmed Expo and Trade Show and the 6th Annual Chicago Food Policy Summit, which were held from March 17 to 19 at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Getting healthier food into the schools, particularly locally and regionally grown food, is one of the objectives of those pushing the changes.

This was the first year that school lunches were addressed at these annual conferences. Kathy Lawrence from School Food FOCUS pointed out the well known fact that one in three children in the US is obese, and that school lunch programmes contribute to the problem.

Dr Lawrence said that the mainstream food system is broken, due to a farm policy that said 'get bigger or get out', plus six decades of cheap food policy. Giving a few of the statistics, she stated that 33 million lunches and 11 million breakfasts are served daily in schools in the US.

She also noted the actual amount spent on food for each school meal is $1.

The focus of those who want to improve what school children eat is to get healthier food into the schools. They want more local fresh food, and more locally produced meat. They want school food to be a driving force for healthier children and a better food system.

The Chicago Public schools alone spent $1.2 million on local food in 2010 and this year, it is projected that they will spend $2.3 million. There are 410,000 students in Chicago Public Schools.

Rochelle Davis from Healthy Schools Campaign said that healthy students are better learners. Schools must provide students a healthy environment. School lunch programmes are large and complicated food systems. But healthy food, she said, should not just be a niche market for people with money.

Dr Davis said they want to get healthier food into schools: more fruit and vegetables, plus they care about how the food is produced and processed. She did admit, however, that healthier food did not necessarily go over well with the students, especially in the upper grades.


Both speakers used chicken as the example of the bad food that was being served to students and that fixing the'chicken problem' was important to them. Dr Lawrence initially mentioned the high amounts of salt in the chicken, while Dr Davis mentioned wanting to get different kinds of products into the schools, antibiotic-free if possible, and minimally processed.

When questioned privately about the exact complaints against chicken, Dr Lawrence said that what schools get is highly processed formed chicken products like nuggets and patties, which have a lot of salt, additives and fillers. What they want served in the schools is flash-frozen, plain, uncooked chicken pieces: breasts, legs, etc. Barring that, since many schools do not have cooking facilities, they want cooked whole muscle pieces with the minimal amount of processing possible.

The use of antibiotics in chickens was also an issue, but one which the speakers faced realistically. While the preference is to have antibiotic free chicken in the schools, they know the cost of those products puts them out of the reach of schools. However, as Dr Lawrence said, they want poultry producers to use antibiotics judiciously.

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