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Serving Healthy Meals Can Be Challenging in After-School Programs

While after-school programs can help curb childhood obesity by serving healthy meals to participants, out-of-school programs serving snacks and meals often vary greatly in how healthy they are, says an article in the latest edition of Afterschool Matters, from the National Institute on Out of School Time at Wellesley College.

The article profiles survey research and interviews conducted by the institute that examined some of the barriers and challenges after-school providers face in providing healthy meals and snacks to participants, and what can be done to make it easier for these programs to serve nutritious food.

As written about by my colleague Nirvi Shah, while many after-school programs have long been serving snacks to participants, increasing numbers of after-school programs are using funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide dinner, given the high-needs populations many serve. In addition, increasing numbers of programs and organizations are reaching out to needy kids during the summer, through the USDA's Summer Food Service Program, covered in recent articles here and here.

But according to the recent journal piece, many programs are still struggling to provide healthy meals, even though funding is available. While curbing childhood obesity was said to be a priority of many programs, they also say more logistical concerns like staffing, training, and facilities can make meal delivery a challenge. In addition, they report a lack of guidance on how and what to serve in their snacks or suppers.

According to NIOST researchers, to improve meal quality, and in turn, use out-of-school programs to help combat childhood obesity, more research needs to be performed to address some of these concerns, as well as others programs may encounter. In addition, improved management and staff training needs to be undertaken to assist in this process, they report.

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