EDITORIAL: School nutrition

The time, training and professional standards involved in planning school-day nutrition in Northeast Mississippi’s public school districts may be among the most overlooked measures of progress for students in our state.
Daily Journal writers Chris Kieffer and Ginna Parson’s articles in the Sunday Journal detailed the precision and planning involved in preparing and presenting school-day meals, including breakfast and healthy snacks.
Mississippi’s schools only a few decades ago could not have afforded the choices available to today’s students. The options in school lunch programs were limited in large degree to what was available for free or at sharply reduced prices from the food resources of the United States Department of Agriculture.
Former Lee County superintendent Cecil Weeks, who also served as principal at Church Street School in Tupelo, said what was called “commodity list” food provided through the USDA weighed heavily on school cafeteria food choices.
The food was processed under the umbrella of federal price support systems for farmers. It found its way to school lunch programs, especially in rural and high-poverty areas like Mississippi.
“Some months it might be cheese, and some months it might be prunes,” Weeks said. “You went down to the train car and picked up whatever they had to provide.”
School-based nutrition evolved over several decades, beginning after World War II, into the virtually comprehensive nationwide program helping guarantee good nutrition choices for every American public school student.
The School Lunch Act followed by the Child Nutrition Act and variations on the central principles have changed school lunches from a big pot cooked on a potbellied stove in the early 20th century to precisely calculated and individually portioned meal choices in virtually every system.
Early 1950s textbooks sometimes described the especially difficult time among a majority of Southern children, a situation that needn’t exist in today’s schools except by the refusal of children and their parents to participate in good nutrition opportunities.
School nutrition, while far from the most popular topic among students and parents, has come of age as its importance has increased. The Mississippi School Nutrition Association will hold its 41st annual convention in the fall. The choices, rather than arriving on a train car, will be showcased by vendors seeking to sell nutrition under their own labels.
School children everywhere undoubtedly will continue complaining about the choices available in cafeterias and food courts, but compared to what it was possible to offer until relatively late in the 20th century, it’s a feast.

NEMS Daily Journal