School lunches really about the future of Oregon

Oregon school lunches get mixed report card

A student eats a school lunch (KOIN, file)
A student eats a school lunch (KOIN, file)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — “Healthy kids learn better. If kids are hungry they’re not going to be able to perform well in school.”

That’s Kasandra Griffin, the policy manager for Food and School Health for the nonprofit Upstream Public Health. They began in 2002 to work on issues including healthy schools, dental health, health equity and food and nutrition.

A school lunch cart in a Portland public school, March 5, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)
A school lunch cart in a Portland public school, March 5, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)

They, along with Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon and the American Heart Association, just released a report card on how Oregon schools are faring with school lunches.

“An overall grade I would give to the Oregon legislature for the 2015 session is an A,” Griffin said. “I think there were more big steps forward in ensuring all kids have great nutrition in schools this year than there ever has been before in any single year.”

There is still work to be done, such as establishing rules to stop marketing junk food to children in schools, increasing access to filtered water, and higher enrollment for schools in the Community Eligibility Program, which lets schools offer meals at no charge to students.

“There has been new national nutrition standards, there have been movements to get the junk food out of schools,” she told KOIN 6 News. “Oregon was early in that. We took junk food out in 2007.”

More fruits and vegetables are offered, more choice and, she said, “the meals are really quite good” with the move back to fresh food, local food and cooked foods.

Griffin said healthy school food is about the “future of the state as a whole.” More than half of the K-12 students in Oregon qualify for free and reduced price meals.

“Many of their families don’t have enough food or money to keep them from being hungry let alone give them excellent nutrition, nutrition education,” Griffin said. Students can get “the nutrients they need to succeed in math and science and all their other subjects.”

A strawberry (KOIN, file)
A strawberry (KOIN, file)

Inside school lunch funding

The state of Oregon was already leading the nation in farm-to-school and school garden programs, she said, but there is now even more being done. Local produce is accessible to every school district.

A rule was changed to allow breakfast to be served in the classroom so kids are not “sitting through the first half of their day hungry.”

The legislature also invested in covering the co-pay for an extra 30,000 Oregon kids from low-income families.

“They used to have to pay 30 cents a day for breakfast or 40 cents a day for lunch and Oreogn now is covering the cost for both breakfast and lunch for those kids,” she told KOIN 6 News.

Healthier options for students

Water fountains at David Douglas School. On the left and right, old fountains. In the center, a new hydrating spot installed during a pilot project. (Courtesy: Upstream Public Health)
Water fountains at David Douglas School. On the left and right, old fountains. In the center, a new hydrating spot installed during a pilot project. (Courtesy: Upstream Public Health)

Sugary drinks play a role in some of the unhealthy food habits kids get. So schools are doing what they can to promote water as a healthy thing to drink.

Schools all have water fountains, but they are not modern.

“Think now in comparision to a beverage filling station at an airport or some other public space where you can walk up with your bottle and just fill it up,” Griffin said. “You know that water is going to be cool and clean and filtered and delicious, and kids are just like the rest of us.”

What families can do

Griffin said one of the biggest things each family can do is go to a school and have a meal.

“So go to school, test it out for yourself and then get invovled if you see more opportunities for improvement,” she said. “There’s opportunities to get involved in your school district’s wellness policy.”

Upstream Public Health hopes to do this report card every 2 years.

“We’re talking about what we as a state are doing to ensure all students have the nutrition they need to succeed in school and life.”

A school lunch cart in a Portland public school, March 5, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)
A school lunch cart in a Portland public school, March 5, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)

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