Kellogg survey: School menus get low grades

by Bryan Salvage
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CHANDLER, ARIZ. – Most Americans believe nutrition in local school meals falls far short of what children need, claims a new survey commissioned by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Pizza, chicken nuggets and hamburgers, the foods the survey claims people associate with school meals, are the same foods they said should be cut drastically from school menus.

The survey was released April 28 at the foundation's annual Food & Community Networking Meeting, held this year in Chandler, Ariz. Food & Community is the premier gathering of the so called “good-food movement”, drawing 650 activists, reformers, researchers and public health officials to explore topics such as farm-to-school projects and eradicating "food deserts." The survey was conducted in April among 801 adults from all regions of the country.

Findings include:

• Fifty-five percent of Americans – and 63% of parents of school-age children – described the nutritional quality of local school food as "poor" or "only fair."

• The top-five items that came to mind when asked about school food are all high in fat or sodium, the survey claims: pizza; hamburgers; French fries/tater tots; hot dogs/corn dogs; and chicken nuggets.

• These are the foods many people would like to see drastically cut from school menus, the survey relays. Nearly 70% of Americans said pizza should be served in school just once a week or pulled from menus entirely; more than 60% said chicken nuggets and hamburgers should be limited to once a week or removed.

According to the most recent School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 90% of school-lunch menus offer entrées such as pizza and cheeseburgers.

"The data in this survey highlight the widespread support for transforming school food to help all children lead healthier lives," said Dr. Gail Christopher, who oversees food, health and well-being as vice president of programs at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. "When students have access to healthy, locally-grown food and physical activity, it allows them to thrive both in and out of the classroom."

More than 85% of the survey respondents said fresh, not canned, fruit and vegetables should be offered every day in school cafeterias. Eighty-six percent listed requiring 60 minutes of exercise in the school day as either the top or a high priority in improving students' health.

The survey was conducted by Lauer Johnson Research and has an overall margin of error of plus or minus 3.5%. The full results are available at http://drop.io/fac2010.

Janet Riley, American Meat Institute senior vice president public affairs and member services, recently spoke on a panel with the president of the School Nutrition Association and had the chance to interact with many school nutrition experts.

“They made a good point that when foods are not consumed, no nutrition is gained,” Ms. Riley told MEATPOULTRY.com. “School nutrition experts serve foods that kids like – like nuggets, for example – and they may bread them in a whole-grain breading or they may use a whole-grain crust and low-fat cheese for a pizza or a very lean formulation for a hamburger patty. Of course, these nutrition strategies aren’t necessarily evident just by looking.

“Indicting entire categories of foods is simply not a sound approach,” Ms. Riley adds. “They are required to provide balanced nutrition at an affordable price and that’s what they are doing, even though many people seem to want to rush to judge familiar and well-liked foods that kids will eat.”

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