What started as a small pilot program in northern Michigan is now a statewide $ 5 million effort to reshape school cafeteria menus in more than 200 school districts. But while the Traverse City-built 10 Cents a Meal program is making a difference in what Michigan schools serve, national studies show kids are actually consuming more junk food today than they were ago. at 20 years. And the pandemic is not making things any easier.
According to a peer-reviewed study published this summer in the medical journal JAMA, the United States hasn’t made much progress in child nutrition since the turn of the century. The study found that 67% of calories consumed by children and teens in 2018 came from “ultra-processed foods” – up from 61.4% in 1999. “Ultra-processed foods” is a category that generally includes sweets, crisps, frozen pizzas, fast food, sweet breakfast cereals and soft drinks.
The researchers also found that “the percentage of total energy consumed from unprocessed or minimally processed foods increased from 28.8% to 23.5%” during the same period.
10 Cents a Meal is one of Michigan’s biggest efforts to reverse these trends. Traverse City’s Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities piloted the initiative in seven northern Michigan school districts in 2013. Since then, the program – which provides school districts with matching funding incentives to purchase and serve “fruit, Michigan-grown vegetables and legumes “in their cafeterias. – has grown and attracted millions of dollars in state funding. Last week, when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer approved a new $ 70 billion state budget, it included $ 5 million in funding for 10 cents per meal, more than double the year’s allocation. last.
10 Cents a Meal has two main missions: “to improve the nutrition and daily eating habits of Michigan children” and “to invest in Michigan agriculture”. According to Diane Conners, Senior Policy Specialist at Groundwork, these two missions are documented successes. In the 2018-19 school year, with government funding of $ 575,000 for 10 cents per meal spread across 57 Michigan school districts, data from Groundwork showed the program inspired schools to buy and to serve “93 different fruits, vegetables and beans… grown by 143 farms. located in 38 counties. 67 of these items appeared on school menus for the first time.
Since then, the program has turned into a roller coaster. It was increased to $ 2 million in funding for the 2019-20 school year, then was removed from the budget entirely by an October 2019 Whitmer veto. Conners says funding was set to be reinstated when COVID-19 struck in March 2020, closing schools and questioning the entire state budget. But with schools still providing meals to families in need, COVID may have helped advocate for 10 cents per meal.
“The school catering service was on the front lines during COVID, feeding our children,” says Conners. “So we had people from all over the state – from Detroit to the UP – who said:”[10 Cents a Meal] is a valuable program. It is precious to our children; it is precious to our farms; it is valuable to the Michigan economy. And during COVID, we saw national food supply chains collapsed. People were realizing how important it is to be able to strengthen local food supply chains because they can be more nimble and reliable at times like this.
This statewide support – plus the extra emergency dose brought by the pandemic and heavy help from Sen. Wayne Schmidt – led to 10 Cents a Meal in securing retroactive state funding for the 2019-2020 school year. By the time the 2020-2021 school year began, the program was back on budget, with $ 2 million in funding and 143 school districts identified as beneficiaries.
Today, with $ 5 million in funding and 229 school districts named in the first round of grants, 10 cents per meal is more important than ever. A portion of this money is destined for northern Michigan, where recipients include public schools in the Traverse City area ($ 51,000) and Catholic schools in the Grand Traverse area ($ 4,300), as well as schools Petoskey Public Schools ($ 59,000), Benzie County Central Schools ($ 12,000), Glen Lake Community Schools ($ 7,000) and many more.
Help comes at the right time for TCAPS, which Food and Nutrition Services Director Tom Freitas says continues to face unpredictable food shortages. The district no longer publishes its menus online in advance as it cannot guarantee that certain foods will be available on a predetermined schedule. In turn, Freitas says it has been more difficult to communicate food options to families who must consider dietary restrictions. On top of all that, breakfast and lunch remain free for all students this school year, as part of an ongoing federal COVID relief effort.
These factors make school foodservice a difficult equation to solve at this time. Freitas says fresh produce has a silver lining.
“So far the products have been pretty good [in terms of supply], both locally and nationally, ”says Freitas. “Who knows? That might change over the winter. But 10 cents per meal has really helped shake things up on local produce, and just on kids eating more produce overall.
Beyond just reaching more districts, Conners notes that, for the first time, program dollars are available for after-school programs and daycares. She also believes food service managers are increasingly comfortable incorporating local produce into their menus as they have more time to adjust to the program.
So what has 10 cents per meal helped put on school menus? Freitas says he’s discovered that apricots and kale chips are especially popular with children. And Conners has heard other success stories, ranging from roasted Brussels sprouts to an assortment of apple varieties. In the latter case, Conners says some schools have even built educational experiences by tasting different varieties and encouraging children to work on vocabulary and description skills by assessing each type.
As school menus change, Miranda Paul – a local nutritionist who owns and operates Grand Traverse Nutrition – tells The Ticker that the fight against unhealthy children’s nutrition won’t be won in cafeterias alone. Much of the battle, she says, must take place at home.
“TCAPS and GTACS have done a great job bringing in local produce and encouraging children to make healthy food choices,” said Paul. The teleprinter. “But I think it’s not just school meals that challenge kids to eat healthy; that’s what they get at home. Parents who don’t know how to cook healthy meals, busy schedules leading to quick meals at the end of the day, and an overabundance of junk food snacks prevent children from getting the optimal nutrition they need to grow and develop. healthy habits for life. “