Last Thursday the House of Representatives approved a $4.5 billion child nutrition bill which will give schools more money to spend on school lunches as well as set new nutritional standards for all foods sold in schools.
The school lunch program feeds more than 31 million children per day, many of who are from low-income families and receive the meals for free or for a reduced price. The legislation is the first overhaul in the school lunch program in 30 years and President Obama is expected to sign it into law.
The bill, called the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, will expand access to free and reduced price meals to children in need, as well as improve the nutritional quality of all meals children receive at school. The US Department of agriculture will set nutritional guidelines for all food sold in schools, including food sold in vending machines. Schools must limit foods that offer little or no nutritional value to students like junk food, sugary beverages and even bake sale treats.
The act will increase the reimbursement rate by 6 cents and require cafeteria's to incorporate fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products into their meal options. The usual hamburger or pizza might still be offered, but it might come with a whole wheat bun or crust, low fat cheese and a side of veggies. The bill also requires that school lunch workers receive nutritional training to help students make healthier choices.
The legislation provides $40 million in funding for farm-to-school programs so kids can eat fresh produce from local farms. Schools can also establish their own gardens to grow food to be served at the school.
Advocates have hailed the bill, which passed Senate by unanimous consent, as historic as the reform will lead to healthier, better quality food in cafeterias at a time when one in four American children are at risk of hunger and one in three kids are overweight or obese. First Lady Michelle Obama is said to have lobbied hard for the bill’s passage, and will make it a centerpiece for her “Let’s Move!” campaign to fight childhood obesity.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), while supportive of the legislation, had hoped the bill had gone further in promoting more vegetarian options as well as meat and dairy alternatives.
“One in three kids is now overweight, but many schools are still struggling to serve healthy lunches,” says Neal Barnard, M.D., PCRM’s president. “Schools should offer low-fat vegetarian options every day, and Congress and the president should take additional steps to give schools the resources to make that feasible.”
The bill received opposition from some House Republicans who claimed it was too expensive and would place a burden on schools. Opponents of the bill also thought it was an example of government overreach, and questioned whether the federal government should be setting standards on what should be served in schools.
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