Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Report on Food in Montgomery Schools

Serving food that is both healthy and tasty (not to mention affordable) challenges not just parents but our school system too.

The food service program of Montgomery County Public Schools complies with or exceeds federal, state and local requirements for school food, and has implemented a variety of practices aimed at encouraging students to eat healthier foods. However, a report released today by our Office of Legislative Oversight also found that when it comes to encouraging healthy eating, the MCPS Department of Food and Nutrition Services (DFNS) “has not pursued these practices as vigorously as some other school systems.”

The report indicates that food service programs, although open to all MCPS students, serve mostly low-income students. MCPS data from the report also show that school meal participation levels are increasing and are close to reaching target school lunch participation rates.

Any MCPS student may purchase a school lunch or school breakfast. Students from low-income families earning up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level may qualify for free or reduced-price meals (FARMS). Overall, 58 percent of elementary school students and 29 percent of secondary school students participated in the School Lunch Program in Fiscal Year 2011. This reflected a slight increase from Fiscal Year 2010, when 54 percent of elementary and 28 percent of secondary school students participated.
FY11 data indicate that the School Lunch Program served an average of more than 57,000 meals per day. Of students enrolled in FARMS, 78 percent participated in the lunch program compared to 23 percent of students who were required to pay full-price for lunches.

The School Breakfast Program served an average of 21,000 meals per day, with half of these served in the 30 schools that participated in Maryland Meals for Achievement. Of students enrolled in FARMS, 36 percent participated in the breakfast program compared to 5 percent of students who were required to pay full-price for breakfast.

The report looked at 10 trends in school food service practices aimed at encouraging healthy eating and increasing school food program participation. The report finds that MCPS engages “to some degree” in each of the practices. For example, to encourage healthy eating, DFNS offers a salad bar as part of the school lunch in Parkland Middle School, posts menu and calorie information in cafeterias and serves flavored milk with reduced sugar content. To increase participation in the School Breakfast Program, DFNS recently began serving free breakfasts to all students who qualify for FARMS, eliminating the 30 cent charge for a “reduced-price” breakfast.

The report also noted that MCPS received recognition from the USDA’s HealthierUS Schools Challenge program and the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine for nutritious menus that exceed federal requirements.

However, the report also stated, “OLO found that some school districts have done more to encourage students to eat healthier foods.” Examples from other jurisdictions include revising the menu to eliminate all processed foods, offering “all you can eat” fruits and vegetables with school meals and offering in-classroom breakfast district wide.
Additionally, the report cites DFNS data that shows student satisfaction with the food served is not meeting the target set by DFNS, despite increasing participation levels. Specifically, DFNS has fallen short of its target of an 85 percent or higher satisfaction rating from parents or students.

Another factor the report considered was the financial aspect of the food service program. As an enterprise fund, DFNS is designed to be a self-sustaining operation. However, DFNS experienced a deficit in FY10, anticipates a deficit for FY11, and loses 50 cents for each free and reduced-priced lunch it serves.

1 comment:

Sue said...

Circle of Rights is working with Linkages to Learning (LTL) to get health messages to students. I read a portion of the "Food in Montgomery County Schools" report, and found a great idea. We could have taste testing parties with LTL schools to try to increase the # of kids that have school meals. Circle of Rights will be presenting to LTL Site Coordinators on 9/15. I'd like to see if we can set something up with MCPS staff, and develop a grading scale for different foods for the kids to fill out. This will help make the kids more aware of the foods that are offered, which could help with MCPS participation levels.