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5 things: Report delves into impact of school meals on test scores

This and more are the things you missed for the week of March 20.

Each Friday I compile a list that highlights five things you probably missed in the news that week and why you should care about them.

Here’s your list for the week of March 20:

1. Report delves into impact of school meals on test scores

Ever since No Child Left Behind, students’ test scores have had high importance for districts. When Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, spoke about President Trump’s proposed budgets last week he had this to say about after-school programs that served meals to students: “There's no demonstrable evidence they're actually doing that. There's no demonstrable evidence they're actually helping results, helping kids do better at school." 

A new report looked at that very question: How do school meals impact student test score results. The paper found that school meals do impact test performance, and in those schools that contract with a management company that researchers deemed served healthy meals, students performed better than students in self-operated programs and those contracted by companies that serve less-healthy meals.

The report looked at schools in California over a five-year span from the 2008-2009 school year to 2012-2013. To determine the nutritional content of the meals served, the researchers hired the Nutrition Policy Institute, which looked at menus to determine how healthy the meals were. The researchers then looked at test scores at schools using those “healthy” school lunch vendors compared to those with self-operated programs. (It is important to note that the researchers did not do nutritional analysis of the self-operated programs.) The conclusion was that students had higher test scores in districts with a meal program that was contracted to a healthy vendor company. 

I’m not sure I completely buy the analysis between the vendor and self-operated program—there are too many variables not taken into account, including the nutritional analysis of the self-operated programs. But one good thing this report does bring up is that a healthy school meal can positively influence a student’s academic performance.

Read more: Do Healthy Lunches Improve Student Test Scores? 

2. Grocery store to open at Cornell to help quell food insecurity

We’re hearing more and more about food insecurity on college campuses lately, and Cornell students will soon have a grocery store on campus to help out. The store will open this summer, and will offer low-cost food and subsidies for those who are in need. The grocery store is being run by a student group and is part of the Cornell curriculum. It doesn’t appear that the store has any connection with dining services, but it certainly seems like a project that could happen with the involvement of dining services on some college campuses. 

Read more: Anabel's Grocery strives to stem food inequity on campus

3. College closes dining options on Sundays

In response to low customer turnout, the dining options inside the Morris University Center on the campus of Southern Illinois University will close on Sundays during the summer.  With many students returning home for the summer, dining services said it didn’t make economic sense to keep the locations open on Sundays.

Read more:  MUC to take summer Sundays off

4. Wake Forest opens vegan station

Wake Forest recently debuted a vegan station, offering meat- and dairy-free menu items during lunch and dinner during the week and from noon to 7 p.m. on weekends. The menu items change between lunch and dinner daily, on a two-week cycle. Aramark, which manages foodservice at Wake Forest, said it opened the vegan station following student requests for these food options. 

Read more: Vegan station accommodates dietary restrictions 

5. Canadian parents defend school meals following photos distributed

In a refreshing turn of events, parents have come to the defense of a school’s foodservice programs. After one student took a photo of her meal and her father raised concerns about its nutritional quality, other parents voiced their approval of the meal program. This isn’t normally the case in instances where a student’s meal photos are posted online. One parent at the Canadian school had this to say: “Sure, the food is not gourmet, but it's certainly not gross. I’m grateful they have the food to feed our children and they feed the ones who can't afford lunch. I'm grateful they take the time to even set up such a thing as hot lunch in the first place.” There’s always improvements that can be made to anything, but it's nice to see this level-headed sentiment when it comes to school meals.

Read more: Parents defend school's food

Bonus: Oakland aligns purchasing with core values

Contact Becky Schilling at [email protected].

Follow her on Twitter: @bschilling_FM

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