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Rising food prices are making it harder for schools to cook up ways to give kids the nutrition they need.
Right now, they’re taking shortcuts and shuffling ingredients to make up the difference, but that’s only a short-term solution with long-term consequences on the horizon.
“I’ve been in school service for 27 years and this is the worst it’s ever been,” said Sara Gasiorowski, food service director for Wayne Township Schools in Indianapolis.
“I have never seen food prices jump up so far.”
Pinching pennies for milk, flour
To make up for the increase, Peterson said schools are cutting corners, replacing baby carrots “which the kids love” with chopped carrots, or swapping beefsteak tomatoes with cheaper grape tomatoes, and mixing fresh vegetables with frozen.
“They’re looking at these different things to see where to save a few pennies here and there, because it really does come down to pennies,” he said. “You can be as creative as you can, but at the end of the day we’re going to need more money.”
And in Davie County, NC, Yoo-hoo drinks, which had been taken off the shelf in favor of healthier options, are back. Sure, officials would rather the kids chugged milk. But each Yoo-hoo sale brings in 36 cents of profit.
Sharp rises in the cost of milk, grain and fresh fruits and vegetables are hitting cafeterias across the country, forcing cash-strapped schools to raise prices or pinch pennies by serving more economical dishes. Some school officials on a mission to help fight childhood obesity say it’s becoming harder to fill students’ plates with healthy, low-fat foods.
Just as consumers are paying more for staples, so are schools. Though they often use long-term contracts to lock in low prices, cafeteria directors say they’re still seeing double-digit cost increases over last year: a 12% increase for bread, 13% for rice and pasta, 15% for cheese and 17% for milk.
Though nutritionists say school lunch is as healthful as ever, critics such as Adamick say the push to limit costs while boosting safety has handed control of school meals from cooks to dietitians or nutritionists.
“There’s very little fresh food cooked in the school,” she says.
Although a meal consisting of chicken nuggets, tater tots and canned fruit cocktail in heavy syrup meets all USDA nutrition requirements, she says, “It’s absolutely disastrous — it is so high in sugar, it is so high in sodium. There’s nothing in there that hasn’t been processed.”
Food banks across America are reporting a significant increase in the number of people seeking emergency food assistance, at the same time they are experiencing dwindling food inventories, forcing many food banks, soup kitchens and food pantries to cut back food distribution and adjust operations to meet demands….
In a “Local Impact” survey of 180 food banks, conducted by America’s Second Harvest between late April and early May 2008, 99 percent of respondents reported an increase in the number of people being served today compared to one year ago. The average increase reported was between 15 and 20 percent. More than 90 percent of the respondents cited increasing food and fuel prices as a primary factor driving the increases in need. Other factors included inadequate food stamp benefits, unemployment, underemployment, and rent or mortgage costs.
“We live in a country where no one should go hungry, and hungry Americans are facing the worst times they have seen in recent years,” said Vicki Escarra, president and chief executive officer of America’s Second Harvest—The Nation’s Food Bank Network. “Our food banks and their agencies are so incredibly strapped to meet the needs of more people turning to our system for help right now.
Today I am at the beach selling off baked goods our extended family has generously donated to the cause; we are part of the Great American Bake Sale.
Please consider donating a dollar through the button on the sidebar or through the Save Our Strength website, and let me know so I can tally how many individuals have contributed. Or register to host your own bakesale.
Anyone who alerts me to their donation will receive some virtual baked goods in their inbox!