Our guiding mission is to connect kids with healthy food in schools as a way to prepare them to lead healthier lives and to reach their full potential. We realize that to fulfill our mission we need to go several steps beyond our work in schools and into the policy space. The following outlines current issues, how we address them, our impact, and our current priorities.
The Problem: What a child eats is a fundamental building block for health and human potential that will shape them for the rest of their lives. Inequities in our country and shortcomings in our food system, however, have resulted in countless children having insufficient opportunities to learn about, access, and benefit from healthy food. The effects of this crisis are long-lasting: children who lack a quality diet are more likely to suffer from a variety of health problems that can hold them back throughout their lifetimes. Additionally, type 2 diabetes, and other diet-related diseases take a disproportionate toll on members of our society who face other systemic barriers to wellness and social mobility: children from low-income communities and communities of color. Taken together, these injustices and individual costs take a toll on our citizens and our country.
The Opportunity: As the places where children spend a third of their day and often eat at least half their calories, schools, particularly in communities that suffer elevated inequities in public health, income, and education, are a critical point of intervention against diet-related disease. Only when our schools are places where students learn what a healthy diet is, establish a connection to the farms and soils where food is grown, and eat nutritious meals every day will our children be set up to thrive.
The Solution: FoodCorps helps make schools healthier places for kids to eat, learn, and grow. Via our direct service program and our investment in school food leadership, FoodCorps puts three evidence-based drivers of health into place across the physical, cultural, and educational environments of each school we engage with:
- Hands-on learning: Students grow, cook, and taste new foods, which builds their skills and changes their food preferences.
- Healthy school meals: The cafeteria experience steers students towards healthy options and gets them excited to try new healthy foods. School food leaders are empowered to serve healthier menu items.
- Schoolwide culture of health: As a whole, the school community—from hallways to classrooms to cafeteria—celebrates healthy food.
Our work is having an impact. An external evaluation of our work by Columbia University found that schools where FoodCorps’ signature hands-on learning practices are happening to a high degree, students are eating triple the fruits and vegetables compared to peers in low-implementation schools. Three in four of the schools we serve measurably improved the health of their school food environments over the course of the last school year. And, nearly two-thirds of students showed improved or sustained positive attitudes toward vegetables and/or tried new ones during the course of the year.
Our Approach to Policy
Informed by the success we are seeing on the ground, FoodCorps seeks to drive multi-level policy change to support the institutionalization of healthy food environments across the nation’s 100,000 public schools, and will champion people power and community engagement as part of these solutions. With a commitment to a non-partisan approach, FoodCorps champions evidence-based solutions that work for our nation’s rural communities as well as urban centers.
While FoodCorps AmeriCorps members in our direct service program may not participate in this policy space, FoodCorps has designated staff that works at the federal, state, and local level to support, strengthen, and institutionalize policies that connect kids to healthy food in schools. We also work with state and federal administrative agencies, such as the US Department of Agriculture or state departments of education and agriculture, to influence policymakers wherever they sit in the decision making process. In partnership with a broad range of advocacy groups and coalitions in the fields of nutrition and public health, sustainable agriculture, education, and national service, we seek to mobilize support from citizens, parents, local leaders, school communities, and our own alumni service members to advocate and raise their voices to influence change.
Applying an Equity Lens: This platform describes policies that FoodCorps, informed by our successful, on-the-ground programming, will actively advocate on at the federal, state, and local levels. As these policies are developed, written, and implemented, we will deploy an equity lens to consider the impact they will have on structural inequalities and the cycles of discrimination based on place, race, and class that both reinforce and are reinforced by the problem we are trying to solve. We affirm our commitment to policy solutions that are evidence-based but also place-based, culturally relevant, and adaptive to local contexts in their application.
We also recognize that a child’s ability to enjoy a healthy diet intersects with a wide range of policies well beyond those articulated below. As such, FoodCorps will work in coalition and partnership with other organizations leading advocacy on these broader efforts when they support or further our goals. And, when current events or issues arise that have an impact on the kids or communities we serve, particularly as it relates to our commitment to equity, we will determine how to most strategically use our voice to be an agent for change.
Our Policy Priorities
FoodCorps believes, and evidence shows, that holistic hands-on learning that includes opportunities for kids to learn about where food comes from and how to prepare and eat it, increases consumption of healthy food and sets kids up for a lifetime of success. Holistic, hands-on learning about food and nutrition should be culturally appropriate, high in frequency and duration, and should become a regularly scheduled part of a student’s education, enhancing current academic subjects whenever possible.
We seek to ensure that all students enjoy holistic hands-on learning about food and nutrition in school. To achieve this, FoodCorps supports federal, state, and local policies that:
- Strengthen health and nutrition education curricula to ensure they are evidence-based, hands-on, and integrated into a student’s overall academic portfolio
- Provide professional development and support for teachers and other school staff to further their ability to deliver high-quality, hands-on, and culturally competent nutrition education
- Increase hours of nutrition education that students are taught
- Expand access to school gardens, cooking opportunities, teaching kitchens, and other hands-on, experiential learning equipment and infrastructure
- Protect and strengthen AmeriCorps and national service, as AmeriCorps service members are the core of our on-the-ground impact
- Create, protect, and expand funding for robust, integrated nutrition education that instills in children a healthy relationship with food
- Elevate food and agriculture within the allied fields of social-emotional learning, science education, and environmental literacy
- Identify and cement innovative new funding streams, such as revenue generated from sugary beverage taxes, that support hands-on, holistic nutrition education
Healthy School Meals
FoodCorps believes that school meals should be as high quality and healthy as possible. School meals should be easily accessible to all students, without shame. The school cafeteria should not just be treated as a cost center, but also acknowledged as a value and impact center, focusing on nourishing students and setting them up to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. Schools should offer all of the federally funded meal programs: breakfast, lunch, supper or snack, summer, and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. FoodCorps supports schools in achieving proven practices for increased quality and consumption, like breakfast after the bell, menu item taste testing, and local procurement.
FoodCorps supports policies that ensure all students, regardless of place, race, or class, can enjoy healthy meals and snacks in schools, so that they are fueled to learn and succeed. We call on policymakers to:
- Support and strengthen evidenced-based nutrition standards that prioritize healthy, minimally-processed, appealing, and culturally appropriate meals
- Provide schools with sufficient funding to prepare nutritious and appealing meals and snacks with high-quality, culturally appropriate ingredients
- Expand farm to school efforts by removing barriers to prioritize local preference in procurement and bidding procedures and increasing funding for farm to school initiatives
- Ensure all students have access to the meals and snacks they need by maximizing participation and enrollment in school breakfast and lunch, afterschool meals and snacks, summer nutrition programs, and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. Efforts to ease enrollment procedures, such as the Community Eligibility Provision or universal meals, should also be expanded
- Promote adoption of innovative school meal service methods proven to maximize participation, such as breakfast in the classroom and non-congregate feeding
- Prohibit practices that shame students with unpaid school meal charges
- Allow students to have adequate time to eat and enjoy meals in hospitable, inviting cafeteria settings
- Promote student involvement and engagement on school menus and menu planning and solicit input on what is served
- Increase funding and establish loan guarantee programs for school meal equipment and infrastructure to enable more schools and districts to cook and prepare fresher meals and modernize cafeterias and eating locations to make the more inviting places for students
- Reform procurement policies to enable school food authorities to effectively and efficiently procure the healthy food they need
Schoolwide Culture of Health
FoodCorps supports policies that promote schools as places that foster the nutritional health of their students as a key component of academic, social, and emotional development. Educators and administrators should model healthy food habits, encourage healthy choices by their students, incorporate food and nutrition into existing educational opportunities, and consider health and nutrition when making schoolwide decisions. School wellness committees and/or healthy school teams should meet regularly and be given the authority and resources they need to implement changes that make it easier for kids to choose healthy food.
To achieve this, we call on policymakers to:
- Protect and strengthen evidence-based standards for all foods served and sold on a school campus, outside of the reimbursable school meals, such as those in vending machines, fundraisers, and “a la carte” lines
- Require districts to incorporate evidence-based food and nutrition approaches in school wellness policies and ensure they are implemented
- Support school administrators, teachers, food service personnel, and other school staff with opportunities for learning and professional development on creating healthy school food environments
- Incorporate healthy food and nutrition education indicators into school rating and/or accountability systems and measures of school climate and culture assessment
FoodCorps is a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Foodcorps staff and FoodCorps AmeriCorps members may not participate in advocacy or lobbying activities during work time charged to a Corporation for National and Community Service funded grant or while earning AmeriCorps service hours. No federal funds were used to prepare or distribute this content.