Massachusetts Food System Collaborative
Massachusetts Food System Collaborative

FASH: Goal 4

Healthy food education and choices for all children and adolescents will be expanded.

There is a lack of nutrition education and healthy eating choices for children and adolescents in Massachusetts, according to many plan participants. Lack of such educational resources and limited healthy food choices correlate with higher obesity and related health problems and food insecurity rates, especially among youth.[1] To improve these health outcomes, existing federal food assistance, education, and other programs and funding streams can be improved and expanded.

The lack of early education about nutrition contributes to food insecurity, as children grow up without fundamental skills in food preparation, shopping, and budgeting. In schools, home economics, food science, and nutrition classes at the middle and high school levels are no longer required, and fewer students are taking them.[2] Many schools no longer have full-service kitchens and are reduced to warming ovens and refrigerators, which greatly limits the school district’s ability to incorporate locally grown or whole food into menus. This transition to from full-service to limited-service school kitchens marks a significant change from recent, historical school practices. USDA programs exist to support school districts and childcare providers in expanding healthy food options, but in Massachusetts these are underutilized.

Schools gardens can be effective educational tools that support students in making healthy food choices. Despite the benefits of school gardening initiatives, limited funding, lack of administrative staff and school board support, staff and teacher time constraints, and difficulty integrating programming during the academic year can make implementation difficult.

These limitations are compounded by a strong culture of convenience that emphasizes prepackaged foods that require little preparation. The prevailing view among many adults and parents is that cooking takes too much time or skill, and that nutritious food does not taste good.[3] Contributing to this are lack of time, limited cooking facilities, a shortage of cooking skills, and poor access to healthy food options – especially for low-income residents who lack convenient access to healthy food. Children often model their eating habits from their family. Nutrition education programs in which parents engage with their children in food and nutrition activities reinforce budgeting, cooking skills, and the connection between food consumption and health can be very effective in transferring healthy eating habits.

Recommendation 4.1: Increase nutrition education, curriculum, and trainings for children and adolescents.

Action 4.1.1: Re-introduce contemporary home economics curricula to public middle and high schools. Contemporary home economics classes could involve an integrated curriculum including basic cooking techniques, USDA’s MyPlate education, local agriculture education, food budget principles, food safety, nutrient information and labeling, and food-related health benefits and risks.

Action 4.1.2: Encourage and support nutrition education that is age-appropriate for students in elementary schools.

Recommendation 4.2: Support farm to institution programs to increase procurement of locally produced, healthy food by schools.

Action 4.2.1: Provide financial incentives to school districts and academic institutions to modify contracts for local food procurement to include requirements or incentives for food service providers to serve more healthy local foods. Set goals for local food procurement of between ten percent and 20 percent and include mechanisms that increase the transparency of the food procurement process and insure that the “local” origin can be verified.

Action 4.2.2: Expand existing, and support new, farm to school programming to increase the amount of healthy and locally produced foods purchased and served by pre- and K-12 schools, childcare, and after-school facilities. Incentivize expansion and creation of farm to school programs with public and private funds to support school districts.

Action 4.2.3: Increase healthy and local food distribution to small-scale food purchasers, including childcare and after-school facilities. Evaluate ongoing efforts, identify new approaches, and launch pilot projects as needed to achieve this.

Action 4.2.4: Increase the number of schools that have full service kitchens, and provide additional training for food service staff.

Recommendation 4.3: Increase and maximize the use of available food assistance programs for children and adolescents, and engage parents in learning and advocacy to improve child nutrition.

Action 4.3.1: Maximize usage of USDA school food programs, including National School Food Lunch, School Breakfast, and Fruit and Vegetable Programs. Encourage school districts to adopt the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). Support the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) in efforts to develop and adopt guidance that clarifies how funding will be allocated for CEP-eligible school districts.

Action 4.3.2: Support the expansion of complementary programs, such as Project Bread’s Chefs in Schools, that support schools in creating appealing, healthy, and local school lunch menus.

Action 4.3.3: Support more schools and school districts in implementing programming that serves breakfast in the classroom. Support increased awareness of Massachusetts DESE guidance to school districts that breakfast is counted as “time on learning.”

Action 4.3.4: Support expanded use of USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program, including efforts to increase funding and participation and reduce and streamline paperwork.

Action 4.3.5: Maximize use of USDA’s Summer Food Program and support efforts that promote and expand the program where there is demonstrated need, underuse, and where there are opportunities to co-locate Summer Food Programs.

[1] See Existing Conditions Chapter sections

[2] Lichtenstein, Alice H., David S. Ludwig. (2010). Bring back home economics education. JAMA, 303(18), 1857-1858.

[3] Lichtenstein, Alice H., David S. Ludwig. (2010). Bring back home economics education. JAMA, 303(18), 1857-1858.

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Massachusetts Food System Collaborative