Where to go next.
By Susan Wunderink
Now that you’ve figured out whether your district is covering poor students’ lunches without wasting money, you might wonder about other aspects of the school lunch program.
An issue outside the scope of our research on this website is the question of whether meals are not as healthful as intended. In a 2008 scare, the School Nutrition Association failed to warn school cafeterias in time about possibly tainted beef. The beef was part of the largest USDA recall to date, and a large portion of the meat was purchased for the NSLP. USA Today says that the incident illustrates how school cafeterias are victims of the USDA’s “dual mandate to regulate the agriculture industry while also promoting it.”
In light of this, we suggest two areas for further inquiry.
1. Check out the commodities stream
When the USDA dumps cheese, beef, and other commodities on school cafeterias, is it actually helping them help kids? Or is this part of the program designed to reward food providers for producing surplus goods?
2. Menus: Do nutritional standards lead to healthy meals?
Reports of egregiously bad school meals abound: American cheese melted on bread for breakfast, anyone? Are school cafeterias that conform to the letter of the law conforming to its spirit as well?
Challenges you may encounter
Due to scattered or unpublished reports, and the variations among states and food service contracts, checking up on the school lunch program will nearly always require a FOIA request, a trip to a school cafeteria, or phone calls. You may not hear back right away—or, at all. Be persistent! We believe the information we’ve provided will help you get fast access to the public information you need.