Panelists Address School Food
Greater efforts are needed to offer free breakfasts in classrooms, confirmed guest speakers at the School Food Matters panel discussion recently hosted by the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School in Manhattan. Kevin Concannon, undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services in the United States Department of Agriculture, and Eric Goldstein, chief executive officer for the New York City Department of Education’s Office of Nutrition and Transportation, were among the panelists. Also present were Jan Poppendieck, a professor of sociology at Hunter College, Jonathan Stein, general counsel for Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, and Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center.
Moderated by Fred Mogul, a healthcare and medicine reporter for radio station WNYC, the panelists addressed the issue of obesity among elementary school children, the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, and ways to provide free or subsidized meals to more students. “It is phenomenally successful,” said Goldstein in regards to classroom breakfasts. “You see more alert students and fewer trips to the nurse. We think the benefits are enormous, but we have to figure out how to do this best and meet the needs of our principals and our schools.”
Breakfast in the Classroom was introduced as a pilot program to New York City schools in January 2008. The free breakfast consists of juice, milk, cereal, fruit and an additional bread or dairy item. Every student is eligible for the breakfast, and currently 22 percent of the over 1,600 public schools in New York City participate in the program.
Despite the benefits of providing classroom breakfasts, schools face numerous challenges in implementing them, Goldstein noted. “You have real-life issues. In a city with 1,600 schools, … facilities are different, … and you need the unions’ support.” There is also the stigma of receiving free or subsidized meals, which the panelists acknowledged as a major reason many students do not participate in the program.
Convincing legislators to mandate school breakfasts would overcome some of these problems, said Poppendieck. “One of the advantages to mandating school breakfasts nationwide is it would take it out of certain culture wars … that have had the effect of stigmatizing families for participating in the program,” she said.
“We can’t turn everything into a mandate because the cost implications are huge,” responded Concannon, who noted that the $1 billion allotted to schools through the expected reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act would help pay for higher-quality foods and other improvements. Through bonuses and other incentives, the USDA hopes to convince states to do a better job upgrading their schools’ kitchens, training food preparers and providing nutritional school meals, he added.
For more information about the Breakfast in the Classroom campaign, visit the DOE’s Web site at www.opt-osfns.org/osfns. #