The End of the School Year Doesn’t Mean the End of Good Nutrition

fruits-and-veggies_largeWith the school year coming to an end, working parents must think of alternative plans for their children during summer vacation. This can be a challenging time for low-income families who need to replace the social and academic stimulation that school provides, as well as the free or reduced-cost meals for which their children qualify.

A school-based summer camp offering a summer meal program may be a good option for some families. The federally funded Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) covers the cost of healthy meals to children and teens (younger than 18 years of age) in low-income areas, primarily during the summer months. The meals provided through this program meet federal nutrition standards that include fruits and vegetables, milk, and key nutrients.

Poor nutrition during the summer months may contribute to lower performance in school, make children more prone to illness, and contribute to other health issues.

Latina_ChildObesity_560_292SFSP can help families ensure that their children eat healthy food during June, July, and August. Any child attending a school that provides breakfast and lunch can participate at the full-price, reduced-price, or free levels, depending on income. After-school and summer programs in low-income areas can receive funding to provide free meals to all children attending the school.

The benefits of these programs are many, yet currently they only serve a fraction of children who need access to healthy meals. The programs that run during the summer months reach only one in eight low-income children who qualify, and the School Breakfast Program reaches only half of those who receive school lunches. We can do better than this. There are steps we can take to build participation and make sure more children benefit from these nutrition programs.

Child  in the gardenFirst, more after-school and summer programs need to participate in the nutrition programs.  Typically, participation requirements are broad: eligible programs include those located in areas where 50 percent or more of children qualify for free or reduced-price school meals, and any school, local government agency, or private nonprofit that meets the eligibility requirements and can follow the program rules.

The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) provides information and materials that can help organizations start and maintain successful summer programs. Other materials including application guidelines and forms can be found on the U.S. Department of Agriculture website.

NCLR works to improve nutrition in the Latino community by increasing access to federal food assistance programs, resources, and education that ensure families can meet at the dinner table for a healthy meal. Our work with FRAC promotes school breakfast, after-school, and summer meals to Latino communities throughout the United States. This partnership is supported by the ConAgra Foods Foundation and includes three other national partners: the Afterschool Alliance, the National Recreation and Park Association, and the National League of Cities.

How We Can Encourage Kids to Make Healthy Food Choices

Last fall at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, in the heart of Arlington County, Virginia, students rallied around their beloved garden when it was threatened by potential new construction that would have paved over the small plot of land on which they grow vegetables for the Arlington Food Assistance Center. Arlington magazine called it “a little garden with big impact” and chronicled the impression this garden has made on the students, one-third of whom are Hispanic. They had never grown vegetables before and had a limited palate when it came to eating them.

Children are known for turning up their noses at vegetables, yet eating nutrient-rich, high-fiber produce is critical to maintaining good health, keeping up energy levels, and preventing childhood obesity, which is reaching record numbers in the U.S. More than 38 percent of Latinos between the ages of two and 19 are overweight or obese, leading to increased risks for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and breathing problems.

The momentum behind prioritizing childhood nutrition is growing. Research shows how important good nutrition is to children’s health and their ability to do well in school. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act seeks to improve nutrition for millions of children. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued new nutrition standards that boost the amount of fruit and vegetables in its Child Nutrition Programs.

CCSS_boys_303x197NCLR joins with the USDA and the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) to urge more families to participate in federal child nutrition programs that provide healthy meals in school to children from low-income families. Many Latino kids who are eligible for these important programs do not participate in them because their parents may not know about them or do not know how to enroll.

USDA offers information and an application form in many languages, including Spanish. Eligible children can obtain, at no cost, breakfast, an afternoon meal, and snacks in school every day, in addition to lunch. FRAC has more information available in English and Spanish.

Thanks to the new USDA nutrition standards, students may be offered smoothies made with yogurt and fresh or frozen fruit. They may see salad bars in schools and even a baked potato bar or side salad options. Protein from meat, beans, and dairy is also an important part of school meals, but it takes a back seat to produce. Breakfast and after-school meals and snacks are just as nutritious as school lunches, featuring whole grains, fresh produce, and foods low in sodium and sugar. The afternoon snacks and meals provided through the USDA have been shown to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables, milk, and key nutrients.

LatinoBoy_messyhairHow can we encourage children to make healthy choices whether they are at home, at school, or in an out-of-school program? Here are some ideas for parents and other caregivers:

  • Serve fruits and vegetables (fresh, frozen, or canned) as options instead of cake, cookies, candy and chips.
  • Offer water as the preferred drink option during snack times instead of juices, punch boxes, or soda.
  • Reinforce messages about good health by ensuring children get daily exercise that includes age-appropriate fitness activities.
  • Demonstrate strong social support for healthy behaviors.

The student gardeners at Thomas Jefferson Middle School have spoken passionately about keeping their treasured garden now that they have discovered the joys of green beans and okra. It doesn’t take growing vegetables to become committed to healthy eating, though. With high nutrition standards in our school meals programs, students nationwide can become fans of green leafy veggies, fruit smoothies, and other delicious, wholesome, and nutritious foods!

This blog post was made possible with a grant from ConAgra Foundation through FRAC.

Rising Food Costs Affect Latino Health and Well-Being

fruits and veggies

As we mark the end of National Nutrition Month, it’s important to look at the rising costs of food in the U.S. that is making it difficult for some families to purchase the basic staples of a healthy meal without breaking their budgets.

USA Today reports that prices for everything from meat to dairy are on the rise, with no signs of slowing down:

Droughts, unusually cold winter weather, rising exports and a virus outbreak in the hog population are among the causes of food inflation, which is expected to accelerate in 2014. The Agriculture Department expects grocery store prices to increase as much as 3.5 percent in 2014, up from 0.9 percent last year.

With beef and pork prices spiking, consumers are turning to poultry, which saw an almost 5 percent increase in prices last year. Fruits and vegetables are also more costly thanks to a drought in California, while milk prices could increase by about 50 cents per gallon this year.

This alarming trend will mean fewer quality food options for Latinos, who already face a myriad of problems affording and accessing healthy groceries. We know that Latinos are more likely to live in areas that have fewer supermarkets, where healthy foods are sold at reasonable prices. In fact, non-Hispanic neighborhoods have three times as many supermarkets as the typical Hispanic neighborhood.

Compounding that problem, the Latino community still has a disproportionately high rate of unemployment, hovering above 8 percent, and those who are working are more likely to work in low-wage jobs. That leaves many families without the necessary income to afford nutritious food items wherever they can find them.

An increase in grocery store prices could prove disastrous for a community that faces two seemingly contradictory health problems. On the one hand, Latinos have disproportionately high rates of obesity, with almost 40 percent of Hispanics considered obese and 80 percent considered overweight. On the other hand, nearly one in four Latino families struggles with hunger.

Simply put, they don’t have the money to afford enough food or the right food.

While we can’t control food prices, we can protect programs that ease the burden of costly meat and produce on struggling families. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, is one of the most effective tools for keeping families out of poverty and a critical buffer against hunger, but over the past year lawmakers in Washington have repeatedly taken aim at SNAP and slashed billions of dollars from the program.

It’s painfully clear that with food prices rising and communities still recovering from the economic downturn, Latino families need all the help they can get to provide for their families. This National Nutrition Month, remind your members of Congress that by investing in SNAP, they are ensuring that every child can come home to dinner on the table, night after night.

“What’s in the Chicken on Your Plate? Tears.”

By Catherine Singley, NCLR Economic Policy Project

Press conference, February 27, 2018 on Capitol Hill.  L to R:  Sherri Jones, Coalition of Poultry Workers; Salvadora Roman, poultry worker; Tom Fritzche, Southern Poverty Law Center; Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18); Hilary O. Shelton, NAACP; Rep. Bennie Thompson (MS-2); Rep. Marcia Fudge (OH-11).

Press conference, February 27, 2018 on Capitol Hill. L to R: Sherri Jones, Coalition of Poultry Workers; Salvadora Roman, poultry worker; Tom Fritzche, Southern Poverty Law Center; Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18); Hilary O. Shelton, NAACP; Rep. Bennie Thompson (MS-2); Rep. Marcia Fudge (OH-11).

The bitter cold temperatures in Washington this week didn’t deter a delegation of poultry workers from the warm states of North Carolina, Mississippi, and Arkansas from traveling to the nation’s capital.  They had a message to deliver to decision makers: stop a government proposal that would endanger the health and safety of poultry workers by speeding up production lines in American poultry processing facilities.  Yesterday, workers held a press conference on Capitol Hill with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, NCLR, the Southern Poverty Law Center, NAACP, Oxfam American, Food and Water Watch, and others, to describe the debilitating injuries they’ve suffered at work and to call on the Administration to halt a proposal that would make a bad situation worse.

The proposed rule change comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal agency responsible for ensuring the safety of meat and poultry products.  If the rule is finalized, poultry companies would be allowed to speed up production from 140 to 175 birds per minute—a 25% speed up—that would lead to more injuries in poultry plants.  Many injuries are linked to the repetitive nature of poultry processing; workers can make up to 20,000 cutting or pulling motions a day.  As a result, poultry workers already experience high rates of traumatic injuries to their hands, wrists, and arms.

Why the line speed increase?  It’s included in the proposed rule as an economic incentive for companies to produce more chicken in exchange for adopting new food safety inspection measures (the basis of which has been heavily criticized by consumer advocates and the Government Accountability Office).

Not surprisingly, most of the debate about this proposal has been about the food safety benefits—or lack thereof—that would result if the rule is finalized.  It’s understandable that the public wants to know that their food is safe and it’s USDA’s job to assure that it is.

For everyone who is concerned about what’s in their meat, Bacilio Castro, from the North Carolina Worker Justice Center, had an answer:

“You want to know what’s in the chicken on your plate?  Tears.  Tears of the mothers who can’t lift their children because of the pain in their wrists and shoulders from working on the line.  We are not asking you to stop eating chicken.  We are simply asking to be treated as human beings and not as animals.”

Weekly Washington Outlook – December 16, 2013

U.S. Capitol

What to Watch This Week:


The House:

The House is in recess, returning January 7th.

The Senate:

The Senate wraps up its work for the year this week with consideration of several executive nominations, including Jeh Johnson as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security on Monday and Janet Yellen to Chair the Federal Reserve later in the week.

On Tuesday, the Senate will vote on cloture on a motion to concur with the House-passed changes to the budget vehicle, H.J. Res. 59 and passage later in the week.  The House amended H.J. Res. 59 with the language of the Murray-Ryan bipartisan budget agreement as a means to expedite its consideration.

On Wednesday, the Senate will vote on cloture on a compromise defense authorization, H.R. 3304 which passed in the House last week.  The scaled back measure provides the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, and other agencies $625.1 billion in base and war funding for FY2014.  The bill would also require the Defense Department to address sexual assault cases and limits the transferring of detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the United States.  A vote on passage is expected later in the week.

White House:

The White House this week did not release a detailed schedule.  President Obama is expected to give a press conference at some point this week and is otherwise attending unspecified meetings.  On Friday, the President and the First Family will leave for Hawaii for the holidays.  Continue reading