The goal of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is to provide nutritious lunches to school age children, with free or reduced-price lunches for children of low-income families. Studies show that meals provided by the NSLP and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) reduce food insecurity or hunger (Nord et.al).
In low-income households, with school-age children, food insecurity in the summer is substantially higher than in other households. Factors other than school meals that are provided, contribute to higher food insecurity which included higher child care costs or reduced work hours for parents to cover child care needs. This study suggests that there is year-round need to increase and expand food programs for children and to increase awareness of the programs that are available (Nord et.al).
For fiscal year 2013 the State of Alaska funded a pilot program called Nutritional Alaskan Food in Schools. The purpose of this new program is to encourage all Alaskan school districts to purchase Alaska grown, caught, and harvested food. Food items that qualify for reimbursement under the programs guidelines include:
- Finfish or shellfish caught or harvested in Alaskan waters
- Livestock raised in Alaska
- Vegetables, berries and fruits grown in Alaska
- Poultry and poultry products grown in Alaska
- Grains harvested in Alaska
- Milk produced from livestock in Alaska
Did you notice what is not included on this list?
Processed foods and sugar! Of course some will argue that you can’t get kids to eat fruit and vegetables, but that is the type of attitude we need to get rid of. If you educate kids on why healthy foods and nutrition are important and then actually offer healthy foods the message will be consistent and behaviors will be more apt to change.
The Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development, Division of Community and Regional Affairs are tasked with administering the grant program and distributing the money to the school districts.
For fiscal year 2014 the state has awarded $3 million dollars to the program. The money is allocated based on the average daily number of student in each district and a school district cost factor.
Each school district is responsible for making qualified purchases and then submitting reimbursement requests and documentation which detail the quantity purchased, cost, and proof that the products purchased are Alaska Grown, caught, or harvested in Alaska. More information can be found about this program at:
Currently this program is only available to the school districts. Why not expand these grant funds and include non-profits that help with child hunger like the Children’s Lunch Box program? More funding would need to be allocated to the program to accomplish this, but the potential benefits extend beyond just feeding children healthier local foods.
Expanding this grant program could also help local farmers and harvesters have a stable marketplace to sell their foods. Although the Alaska growing and harvesting season is short, many of our Alaska food sources can be preserved, frozen, or stored. Food producers need a steady stream of customers to expand production and storage facilities. This program would keep state funds in Alaska and in the local economy.