From 10 Cents To $5 Million: Healthy Eating Grows Beyond Traverse City

What began as a small pilot program in northern Michigan is now a nationwide $ 5 million effort aimed at redesigning school canteen menus in more than 200 school districts. But while the 10 Cents a Meal program built by Traverse City makes a difference in what Michigan schools offer, nationwide studies show that children are actually consuming more junk food today than they were 20 years ago. And the pandemic doesn’t make things any easier.

According to a peer-reviewed study published this summer in the medical journal JAMA, the United States has not made great strides in child nutrition since the turn of the century. The study found that 67 percent of the calories children and teenagers consumed in 2018 came from “ultra-processed foods” – up from 61.4 percent in 1999. “Ultra-processed foods” is a category that is typically candy , Chips, frozen pizza, fast food, sweetened breakfast cereals and soft drinks.

The researchers also found that “the percentage of total energy consumed through unprocessed or minimally processed foods decreased from 28.8 percent to 23.5 percent over the same period.”

10 Cents a Meal is one of Michigan’s greatest efforts to reverse these trends. Traverse City’s Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities piloted the initiative in seven school districts in northern Michigan in 2013. Since then, the program, which has provided school districts with funding incentives to buy and serve “Michigan-grown fruits, vegetables, and legumes” in their cafeterias – has expanded and drawn millions in government funding. When Governor Gretchen Whitmer approved a new state budget of $ 70 billion last week, it included $ 5 million for 10 cents a meal – more than double the allocation from last year.

10 Cents a Meal has two main roles: “To improve the daily eating and eating habits of children in Michigan” and “To invest in Michigan agriculture.” According to Diane Conners, Senior Policy Specialist at Groundwork, these two missions are documented successes. During the 2018-2019 school year, with $ 575,000 in government funding at 10 cents a meal across 57 Michigan school districts, Groundwork data showed that the program encouraged schools to buy and serve “93 different fruit and vegetables. , Types of vegetables and beans … can be found in 38 counties. ”67 of these were on school menus for the first time.

Since then, the program has been on a roller coaster ride. It was increased to $ 2 million for the 2019-2020 school year and then completely removed from the budget by a Whitmer line item veto in October 2019. Conners says funding was about to be restored when COVID-19 hit in March 2020, schools closed and the entire state budget was in jeopardy. But with schools still offering meals to families in need, COVID may actually have helped hit 10 cents per meal.

“The school meal service was on the front lines during COVID, feeding our children,” explains Conners. “So we had people from all over the state – from Detroit to the UP – and we said, ‘[10 Cents a Meal] is a valuable program. It’s valuable to our children; it is valuable to our farms; it is valuable to Michigan’s economy. And during COVID we saw the national food supply chains collapse. People have recognized the importance of strengthening local food supply chains because they can be more agile and reliable in times like these. “

That statewide support – plus the added urgency the pandemic brought and strong support from Senator Wayne Schmidt – resulted in 10 cents per meal receiving retroactive government funding for the 2019-2020 school year. When the 2020-2021 school year began, the program was back on budget, with $ 2 million in funding and 143 school districts identified as grant recipients.

Now, with $ 5 million in grants and 229 school districts named in the first round of grants, 10 cents per meal is bigger than ever. Some of that money will go to northern Michigan, where the scholars will attend Traverse City Area Public Schools ($ 51,000) and Grand Traverse Area Catholic Schools ($ 4,300), and Petoskey Public Schools ($ 59,000), the Benzie County Central Schools ($ 12,000), Glen Lake Community Schools ($ 7,000), and many others.

Aid comes at the right time for TCAPS, which, according to Food & Nutrition Services Director Tom Freitas, continues to overcome unpredictable food shortages. The district no longer puts its menus online in advance as it cannot guarantee that certain foods will be available on a set schedule. In return, Freitas says it has been more difficult to find food options for families who need to consider dietary restrictions. In addition, breakfast and lunch will remain free for all students this school year as part of an ongoing COVID relief measure by the federal government.

These factors make school meals a difficult equation to solve right now. Freitas says fresh produce is a silver lining.

“So far the products have been pretty good [in terms of supply], both locally and nationally, ”says Freitas. “Who knows? That could change in winter. But 10 cents a meal really helped move the needle for local produce, and only for children who eat more produce overall.”

In addition to easily reaching additional counties, Conners notes that, for the first time, program funds are available for after-school programs and daycare. She also believes that food services directors find it easier to include local produce on their menus as they have more time to adjust to the program.

So what helped 10 Cents a Meal get on school menus? Freitas says he found apricot and kale chips are especially popular with kids. And Conners has heard other success stories ranging from roasted Brussels sprouts to a hodgepodge of apple varieties. In the latter case, Conners says, some schools have even had educational experiences by trying different varieties and encouraging children to work on vocabulary and description skills by evaluating each type.

As school menus change, Miranda Paul – a locally registered nutritionist who owns and operates Grand Traverse Nutrition – tells The Ticker that the battle against poor nutrition in children cannot be won in canteens alone. Much of the struggle, she says, has to take place at home.

“TCAPS and GTACS have done a great job bringing in local produce and encouraging kids to choose healthy foods,” Paul told The Ticker. “But I have the feeling that school meals are not the only challenge for children to eat healthily. it’s what they get at home. Parents who don’t know how to cook healthy meals, busy schedules that lead to fast food digging at the end of the day, and an overabundance of junk food snacks keep kids from getting the optimal nutrition they need for Need growth and lifelong healthy habits. ”

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