Feds Spend Millions to Increase Participation in School Nutrition Programs: Giving Vegetables ‘Cool Names’ Can Help

By Penny Starr | September 8, 2015 | 7:10pm EDT
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke at the National Press Club on Sept. 8, 2015. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Tuesday that the federal government is giving $8 million in grants to selected public schools and daycare centers across the country to train school nutrition employees and to develop ways to get more children to participate, which could including giving vegetables “cool names.”

“Sometimes by naming the particular vegetables with cool names you can actually encourage young people to participate and take more of carrots than they would otherwise take, if you tell them that it’s X-Ray carrots that they’ll have X-Ray vision by eating carrots,” Vilsack said at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Vilsack announced that $8 million in grants is being given to selected schools and daycare centers in the United States, with $2.4 million going to train food service workers and $5.6 million to come up with ways to market the food to the children in those schools.

“It may be the way in which [food] is displayed,” Vilsack said of the latter funding. “It may be who is serving it.

“There may be opportunities for contests and so forth that can encourage more participation,” Vilsack said.

In a press release announcing the grants the agency explained how it planned to encourage participation in its school and daycare breakfast and lunch and “summer feeding” programs, including using “principles from behavioral economics to encourage health choices” and “interactive nutrition education activities.”

As for the training of employees who work in school or daycare kitchens, in July the federal regulation on the hiring, training and education of food service workers was finalized as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, putting in place national standards for these workers.

The act also put in place national standards for nutrition in public schools and daycare centers that receive federal funding across the country.

Tuesday’s press conference is the latest in a series of recent appearances by Vilsack to urge Congress to reauthorize the Act, which expires on Sept. 30.

"For the past three years, kids have eaten healthier breakfasts, lunches and snacks at school thanks to the bipartisan Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which made the first meaningful improvements to the nutrition of foods and beverages served in cafeterias and sold in vending machines in 30 years,” Vilsack said in a press release issued on the grant funding. “Nearly all schools are successfully meeting the standards, and these grants part of our ongoing commitment to give states and schools the additional resources they need.”

Vilsack said criticism of the law – too much waste, excessive cost and low participation – is not sufficient reason to oppose reauthorization and that “now is not the time to roll back these standards. Now is the time for continued forward movement” on national standards for nutrition and food service workers.

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