Exploring Human Potential

School Lunches

Posted on | March 3, 2009 | 2 Comments

A smart destination for stimulus funding

As the stimulus package has rolled out, I’ve been trying to think creatively. Where might we get the biggest bang for our buck?  We want to create lasting infrastructure, jobs, and savings- long and short term. We want smart integrated solutions, close to home, right here on Main Street. Here is my suggestion: let’s build on local schools’ kitchens.

From many corridors these days we hear, "There’s no free lunch in America". Well, in fact, there is. But it currently is creating long-term problems like obesity and chronic disease as it addresses short term challenges like hunger and poverty.

The School Lunch Program, under the Department of Agriculture, was formally created in 1946 as part of America’s national safety net.1 Directed at hunger rather than health, its presence today in our nation’s schools is taken for granted.

The School Lunch Program consumed $9 billion in 2007.2 Much of that investment goes to non-food custodial items. The subsidy is pretty clear cut. If you are a public school, you can count on $2.57 for every free lunch you provide, $2.17 for every reduced price lunch, and $.24 for every paid lunch. But there is more: a menu of subsidized food supplies you can choose from. Thanks to contracts with many providers of high-fat, low quality meats, dairy, and thoroughly processed foods – sure to whet the kids appetites- you’re entited to $.20 worth per kid per day. Occasionally there are also bonus deliveries, the leftovers of big food processors and distributors.3

Now the resultant meals fed to the nation’s kids routinely fail to meet our basic nutritional guidelines and standards. Many come pre-packaged and ready-to-go when unwrapped because many schools do not have kitchens. By lacking kitchens and people to run them, attempts are relatively few and far between to advantage fresh, home-grown neighborhood foods. Jurisdiction is confusing as well with the Department of Agriculture tripping over the Department of Education tripping over the Child Nutrition and Women, Infants, and Children Act of 2004 (which is up for reauthorization in September).4

But what if we decided to do this right? Build proper kitchens in schools, advantage the whole foods/locally grown movement, and not only feed our children, but also train them in proper nutrition. There would be 30 million long-term beneficiaries among the children, and local jobs created in the process for local growers, kitchen aids, and builders.

Experts say making the jump to smart school lunches would cost about $5 a child rather then $2.57 plus the one time upgrade of the kitchens.3 That is not free. But those costs pale in comparison to the costs of childhood obesity, type II diabetes in children, and a growing long-term burden of costly chronic diseases.5

Smart policy generally just makes sense. Here is an investment in a healthy future that would make everyone feel good. Teaching good nutrition by example is clearly the right thing to do. And there is nothing wrong with being stimulated to do the right thing.

For Health Commentary, I’m Mike Magee.


1. School Lunch Program.  Public Law S96, 79th Congress. Stat. 231. 4 June 1946.  

2. The National School Lunch Program. United States Department of Agriculture.

3. Waters A, Heron K. No Lunch Left Behind. NYT. A31. 20 Feb. 2009

4. Child Nutrition and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Act of 2004. March 2008.

5. Magee,M. Overweight Kids in America. Health Politics. 18 Oct. 2006.

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2 Responses to “School Lunches”

  1. Earlene
    June 16th, 2014 @ 2:10 pm

    Good day! Would you mind if I share your blog with my facebook group?
    There’s a lot of people that I think would really
    appreciate your content. Please let me know. Many thanks

  2. Mike Magee
    June 17th, 2014 @ 6:14 pm

    Feel free to share. Thanks!

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