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Healthy School Lunches

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Healthy School Lunches

Last—but not least!—health- and food-related news item as we reach the close of 2010 : the much-awaited 4.5-billion-dollar-budget child nutrition bill was voted and signed into law this month in Washington D.C.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, as it is known officially, aims to improve the national school lunch program that currently serves over 31 million children, 62 percent of whom receive a subsidized meal (for free or at a reduced price). The bill had cleared the Senate last summer and was finally approved in the House on a 264 to 157 vote.

Too bad it didn’t make front-page news. Controversial as it may be, it is a significant victory not only for First Lady Michelle Obama and her campaign against childhood obesity, “Let’s Move”, who gave huge support to the bill, but also for all the individuals and organizations who have been advocating tirelessly (and still will be) in order to improve schools’ nutrition programs.

What does the new law mean?

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture will have increased authority to regulate nutritional standards throughout schools’ food programs, including cafeterias, a la carte lines and vending machines, reducing access to sweetened drinks and junk food across the board.
  • Schools will be required to provide more whole grains, lean protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as free drinking water where meals are served.
  • Schools that comply with the new meals standards (to be issued by the USDA) will receive a non-inflationary 6-cent subsidy increase per meal for the first time in over 35 years (current meal subsidy: 2.72 dollars; according to Chef Ann Cooper, less than 1 dollar is left to invest in food itself after paying for operations and overhead).
  • The Federal government will automatically enroll Medicaid children on the free lunch program, which will benefit an extra 115,000 children (many Medicaid-certified families do not supply the proper paperwork to apply for free school lunches).
  • The Federal government will use census data to automatically enroll all students of schools in poverty-stricken communities (criteria: household income must be inferior to 185 percent of the poverty line). The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates up to 10,000 schools in the country’s poorest neighborhoods will be able to participate, starting with the 2011-12 school year.
  • An after-school supper program for at-risk youth, now offered in D.C. and 13 states, will be expanded nationally, providing an additional 21 million meals annually.
  • Section 205 makes it mandatory that meal subsidies be used to fund subsidized lunches only (currently, they fund also a significant part of paid lunches because of schools’ reluctance to raise prices).

Undoubtedly, all of this indicates that the legislators have taken a step in the right direction. Yet, the new text raises just as many questions as it is designed to answer.

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Read more: Blogs, Children, Conscious Consumer, Diet & Nutrition, Family, Healthy Schools, The Green Plate, , ,

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Laetitia Mailhes

Laetitia Mailhes is a French-born journalist. After many years as the technology and innovation correspondent of the French "Financial Times" in San Francisco, she decided to focus on what truly matters to her: sustainable food and farming. Find more articles and videos on her blog, The Green Plate Blog.


+ add your own
3:12PM PDT on Mar 19, 2011

Thanks for the info

3:17AM PST on Jan 24, 2011


5:53PM PST on Jan 1, 2011

Organic all the way.

12:42AM PST on Jan 1, 2011

Thanks for the article.

8:52PM PST on Dec 31, 2010


11:09AM PST on Dec 30, 2010

I agree with Sheryl S. about the styrofoam trays!
This is still an important advance, though. We need a school food revolution!!

10:57AM PST on Dec 30, 2010

The truth is that to help our children eat better we must educate either our very young kids or their mothers. Since schools have a captive audience, It makes sense to provide healthier food choices along with nutritional information that the kids will take home to their families.

It is so easy to assume that all children are raised in homes with families who understand what constitutes a good meal AND can afford to provide these foods for their kids. This is far from reality for many.

I cooked at a day care in a very poor part of Halifax NS years ago and found it very rewarding to introduce young kids to healthy new foods. They ate what was in front of them because they were hungry. I was a real pleasure to see those thankful smiles, happy to have fresh home cooked meals with fresh veggies and fruit with each meal or snack.

I was initially amazed that many of these kids didn't even recognize a fresh carrot. The only "carrots" they were familiar with came chopped into little pieces in a can or frozen in a bag.

While this new bill seems far from perfect it appears to be a place to start from, if only it is used in the most efficient, ethical and productive ways possible.

In Canada our day care system is heavily subsidized by the government (with very strict nutritional guidelines), schools food (with a few notable exceptions) is not subsidized. Most small schools have no kitchen or cafeteria. There is no FREE LUNCH in most Canadian schools, healthy or ot

6:22AM PST on Dec 30, 2010

This is great news. My sister works at a school cafeteria, the food is so unhealthy I can't bring myself to eat it. She and all her co-workers are overweight. A huge part of the kids are overweight. Giving kids the opportunity to learn to eat correctly is great and hopefully they'll take it home or the schools will figure out a way to share the information.

BTW mentioning the welfare program and food stamps. It needs a huge overhaul, there are many scammers and the money does not go toward healthy foods. I feel this program should only buy nutritionally healthy foods and people should be required to attend classes to continue the aid.

4:07AM PST on Dec 30, 2010

thanks for sharing!

11:41PM PST on Dec 29, 2010

still won't let my kiddo eat the stuff.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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