Expanding School Dinners

Obama’s Law

At the end of 2010, President Barack Obama enacted the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act to ensure there is adequate federal funding to ensure all kids who qualify receive their free after-school dinner program.  Prior to this, only 13 states in the District of Columbia were privy to this.  Today, districts have started developing dinner programs in states that are able to provide them and those states in which funding was available previously but were unaware of this privilege.

More School Dinners

Due to additional funding, this year, the Kansas City School District was able to expand its school meal program.  In addition, various districts – such as Memphis, Tenn., and Oakland, Calif., – also had dinner programs.  The Oakland Unified School District began a pilot program four months ago, providing after school dinners for 11 of its 101 schools. This is expected to expand to another 19 schools by the end of this academic year.  Likewise, Memphis City Schools are providing approximately 14,000 after-school meals daily. Around 84 percent of the district's 110,000 students qualify for free- or reduced price lunches as well.

School Dinner Funding

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So where is all this funding coming from for additional school dinners?   The Department of Agriculture's Child and Adult Care Food Program provides the resources which also finances day care programs for children and adults, as well as emergency shelters.

Improved Nutrition Standards

Since for some time now, there has been criticism of the meals not providing adequate nutrition for kids in school, at the end of last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) committed to new nutrition standards for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. Thus meals will include: fresh produce daily; more emphasis on whole-grain foods; low-fat dairy produce and ensuring correct portion size standards are met. These new standards on nutrition mark the first major changes in over a decade-and-a-half to improve nutrition for the 32 million school children.

Mrs. Obama’s Influence?

Perhaps these new standards have to do with the influence of the President’s wife, First Lady Michelle Obama.  In June of last year, she introduced MyPlate as a core part of her campaign against obesity and as a reminder to people about the basics of a healthful diet, before they start eating.  So, perhaps not surprisingly, on January 25th, together with Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, the First Lady announced these new standards for school  meals that are now required by law.

Facilitate Weight Loss: “Michelle’s Plate”

My Plate: By Michelle Obama

Instead of trying to navigate a food pyramid which has been criticized as being too complicated and overloaded with information; it was time for an update according to the USDA. The food plate, which shows simply how to divide up protein, vegetables, grains and fruit (with a place for dairy on the side, out of the plate), is just way easier. According to USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion Robert Post, “it’s grabbing the consumers’ attention that we are after this time, not making it so complicated that perhaps it is a turnoff. There is something really inviting about this familiar setting for meal time.” So why would it be more beneficial for those trying to battle the bulge? First, the simplicity of it: it’s just a regular round plate showing how easy nutrition can be, divided into four sections, so it looks a bit like a pie. Michelle Obama believes this plate will provide a “simple reminder for all of us to be more mindful of the foods we’re eating.”

Easing Eating

According to plate and website developer Post, the plate is meant to be “more artistic and attractive” to diners, providing a “visual cue” for them. It is out with old and in with the new; no more references to fats/oils but just positive words. The blue circle for dairy indicates a glass of milk, portion of cheese or yogurt.

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Of course, My Plate has not gone down all that well in all circles. According to Harvard University Nutrition department chairman Walter Willett, the plate is hardly ideal since it doesn’t inform users of which foods are good and which are bad, nutrition-wise. According to Willett therefore, more information is needed such as what type of grains you are choosing (whole grains have a very different nutritional benefit than refined grains). Proteins have the same issue and the dairy circle is totally problematic, as if people think the additional protein in the dairy segment should be at every meal, then this is wrong.

Obamas’ Obstacles

Clearly the Obamas themselves were having difficulties with My Plate too. Just one day after the First Lady unveiled the plate, hubby was seen wolfing down a hot dog. Perhaps Barrack was out on a prior engagement that day and hadn’t seen My Plate. Michelle herself said it is severely limited since it shows no indication for the addition of exercise which the pyramid does. So there is still work to be done on the Plate.

Obama Gets Ribbed for Ordering Ribs

Michelle Obama came under fire for her ‘less than pc’ choice of entrée at Restaurant Kelly Liken in Vail Village, where the first lady is spending President’s weekend with her daughters and some friends. Ms. Obama chose the braised ancho-chile short rib along with hominy wild mushrooms, sautéed kale, and pickled pumpkins salad with arugula.

Ms. Obama is being accused of hypocrisy by poorly informed opponents for ordering such a ‘fattening’ main course who have claimed that the rib contains 1500 calories with 141 grams of fat.

Kelly Liken, the restaurant’s owner begs to differ. According to her braised short ribs are relatively lean; the braising cooks off a majority of the fat. The 5 ounce serving she offered Ms. Obama is closer to 600 calories, making her meal a healthy choice, as Ms. Liken explained, “A proper 5-ounce portion of protein is what nutritionists say we should have.”

But why all the fuss? Who cares what Michelle Obama eats for dinner? It appears that Obama has been working hard to promote healthy eating as part of her anti-obesity campaign.
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Eating at Kelly Liken’s establishment was actually quite consistent with her message of eating well since the restaurant associated with the Brush Creek Elementary School’s Sowing Seeds program in which students grow their own vegetables in a green house, some of which are eventually served to them for lunch at school. Ms. Liken also uses the school-grown produce whenever she can. Liken explained her feelings about food and the first lady in the following statements:

“The food at Restaurant Kelly Liken is the healthiest food you can get in a restaurant. I want to nourish the people who eat it, to teach people they don’t have to sacrifice taste and texture to eat nutritious and healthy foods. It was refreshing to see how interested she (Obama) really was and how passionate about the kids’ healthy lunches, as well as the movement to eat locally here in the Vail Valley,” Liken said.