The Agriculture Dept.’s Food and Nutrition Service later this month will re-open the HealthierUS School Challenge, a funding program that rewards schools for taking steps to encourage kids to make healthy food choices and be more physically active. It is part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ Initiative
Deadline: Rolling (program opens Aug. 31).
The funding program makes awards up to $2,000 to schools which meet certain benchmarks. The awards are open to all schools participating in the Nat’l School Lunch Program and the Nat’l School Breakfast Program.
The HealthierUS School Challenge is not a competitive grants program but a voluntary certification recognizing schools that have created healthier school environments through promotion of nutrition and physical activity. Awards range from $500 to $2,000, based on the level of achievement. To date, HUSSC awards have been given to schools in 49 states and the District of Columbia. As of Aug. 12, there are 6,655 schools certified (4,468 Bronze, 1,219 Silver, 585 Gold, and 383 Gold Awards of Distinction).
HUSSC criteria now includes a Community Eligibility Provision and healthy cooking technique classes for students/families. The CEP (allows schools that predominantly serve low-income children to offer free, nutritious school meals to all students through the Nat’l School Lunch Program and the Nat’l School Breakfast Program. HUSSC will no longer require any specific meal criteria, but schools must meet current meal pattern requirements.
The criteria also include modifications to nutrition education requirements for all schools. For elementary schools, nutrition education must be is provided to all full-day students in all grades. The classes must be part of a structured and systematic unit of instruction, incorporate USDA Team Nutrition curricula and materials and utilize multiple channels of communication, including outreach to parents.
FNS is making no changes to the HUSSC criteria for Physical Education or Physical Activity. The program requires that elementary schools provide physical activity opportunities each day for all full-day students (e.g., scheduled recess, walking clubs, bike clubs, intramural sports, a walk-to-school program). Such opportunities for physical activity are not the same as physical education. Schools must not deny nor require physical activity as a means of punishment.
Schools can earn extra points if they implement innovative practices to increase School Breakfast Program participation, such as Breakfast in the Classroom, Grab and Go options, or vended reimbursable breakfasts. They are also encouraged to operate an afterschool program that offers an afterschool snack or an at-risk afterschool meals component of the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).
USDA-FNS also announced the award of $5.7 million in Team Nutrition grants to state agencies administering the Nat’l School Lunch and the CACFP. The grants help states expand and enhance training programs that help schools encourage kids to make healthy choices. States will use the grants to increase the number of schools implementing Smarter Lunchroom strategies, which are methods for encouraging kids to choose healthy foods that were developed by child nutrition experts. By using environmental cues such as better product placement and creative names for healthier foods, these practical, research-based techniques increase student selection of healthier items and reduce plate waste. Research has shown these strategies successfully lead to healthier choices among students. USDA is also funding 2,500 toolkits to provide school districts with the resources they need to take advantage of research on Smarter Lunchroom strategies.
Team Nutrition has three behavior-focused strategies:
- Provide training and technical assistance to child nutrition foodservice professionals to enable them to prepare and serve nutritious meals that appeal to students.
- Promote nutrition curriculum and education in schools through multiple communication channels.
- Build school and community support for creating healthy school environments that are conducive to healthy eating and physical activity.
Research has shown that a majority of students like the healthier meals and that the standards have successfully increased consumption of fruits and vegetables. FNS administers 15 nutrition assistance programs. In addition to NSLP and SBP, these include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.
“We’re committed to supporting schools who want to ensure students head back to a healthier school environment this fall,” says Agriculture Under Secy. Kevin Concannon. “Parents, teachers, and school nutrition professionals want the best for their children, and want to provide them with proper nutrition so that they can learn and grow into healthy adults.”