Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today highlighted improvements to school meals, a cornerstone of USDA's efforts to create a generational change to improve childhood nutrition. The Secretary also discussed efforts to create new partnerships with chefs around the country to positively impact the eating habits of children.
In remarks at MMi Culinary Services, Vilsack noted that USDA has made significant progress in improving the foods served to 32 million children each day through the National School Lunch Program. After the changes implemented by the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010, foods served in the lunch line include more fruits and vegetables, with less sugar, fat and sodium.
"Parents work hard to instill good eating habits in their children, and those efforts are being supported by the foods served in the school lunch line," said Vilsack. "USDA encourages partnerships between food service professionals, school administrators and industry to help make continued progress on food served in our schools. We continue to provide support for schools through additional reimbursements and technical assistance, while working with partners across America to find creative solutions to improve school nutrition."
USDA has also partnered closely with Chefs Move to Schools, working with chefs around the country to enhance school lunches, engage students in the food preparation process, and educate children about food and healthy eating. Chefs Move to Schools is a coalition supported by the School Nutrition Association, Share Our Strength, and other partners, which seeks to utilize the creativity and culinary experience of chefs to support school meal programs and instill healthy eating habits in kids. These organizations intend to formalize a partnership with USDA to strengthen the program and promote healthier school environments.
"Chefs are incredibly creative and passionate about food, and have the skills to create healthy meals that are appealing to a variety of audiences. We are thrilled that these chefs are taking their skills and applying them to supporting the health and nutrition of our next generation," said Vilsack.
Secretary Vilsack noted the twin threats of childhood obesity and malnutrition to a healthier next generation. Over the course of the past 30 years, the prevalence of childhood obesity has nearly tripled. Nearly one in three American children and adolescents today are overweight or obese. Some of those children come from low-income families, where access to healthy food choices and opportunities for physical activity can be limited. Nearly a third of our nation's young people are at risk for preventable diseases like type-2 diabetes and heart disease. Preventable diseases have serious consequences -- which is why health experts tell us that our current generation of children may well have a shorter lifespan than their parents.
Vilsack said that USDA empowers Americans to make healthier food choices by providing science-based information and advice, while expanding access to healthy food availability.
USDA's MyPlate symbol and the resources at ChooseMyPlate.gov provide quick, easy reference tools for parents, teachers, healthcare professionals and communities.
USDA also created SuperTracker, a free online planning and tracking tool used by over two million Americans daily to help them improve food choices, maintain a healthy weight, and track physical activity.
Through USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, the Department has worked to increase access to nutritious food through the development of strong local and regional food systems. The number of farmers markets increased by more than 67 percent in the last four years and there are now more than 220 regional food hubs in operation around the country.
In his meeting with MMi, the Secretary also noted the importance of companies, such as MMi, who are making business choices that improve the health of children. Vilsack also stressed the importance of public-private partnerships in supporting the health of our next generation.
Chefs Move to Schools was launched in 2010 by First Lady Michelle Obama and Sam Kass, now the Executive Director of Let's Move! USDA continues working with the First Lady on the Let's Move! initiative, which is helping to promote healthy eating and physical activity among American families. Through the combined efforts of USDA and its partners, the United States is beginning to see progress and improvements in the health of our Nation's children.