Everyone from Top Cheffers to Jamie Oliver to Michelle Obama agrees that our nation's school lunch program is hungry for change. And it's no wonder such prominent figures are ready for the next course of action, given that 1 in 5 children are obese or overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On Thursday the "Improving Nutrition for America's Children Act" was passed by the House Education and Labor Committee, bringing the nation's kids one bite closer to the possibility of more nutritious meals.
The act aims to improve access to school lunch programs, help schools improve the quality of meals by adding a 6-cent-per-child increase in budget, encourage partnerships with local farms, allow unused food to be donated to food banks, increase access to healthful food outside school hours and improve food safety and integrity. (For a full rundown of the stipulations, click here.) It allots $8 billion over 10 years to achieve those goals, quite a bit more than the $4.5 billion proposed by the Senate Agriculture Committee's Child Nutrition Bill passed in March.
"From our view [the Improving Nutrition for America's Children Act] is really the best child nutrition bill that we've ever had. It includes stronger nutrition standards and grants for farm-to-school programs," says Gordon Jenkins, program manager at Slow Food USA. "The amount of funding however, is very modest at the $.06 addition to the current $2.68, which leaves only about $1 for ingredients. It won't be enough to make a significant change. That can be modified on the floor if Congress hears it's important enough."
Both bills have now reached the floor and need to be passed by their respective chambers and reconciled before they can become law.
Jenkins says it's important that the debate be scheduled soon, though. School lunches will be on the back burner during the month of August since Congress is on recess, and the current bill expires in September. "Last year, they had to pass a temporary one-year extension, putting the schools' programs in status quo. The schools will be encouraged but will not have funding. What it really means is that the bill will have to be rewritten and reintroduced again."
Michelle Obama issued a statement urging the House and Senate to take their child nutrition bills to the floor and pass them without delay. "The President looks forward to signing a final bill this year, so that we can make significant progress in improving the nutrition and health of children across our nation.”
-- Krista Simmons
Photo: Kids at Larchmont Charter showing off their school garden-grown tomatoes. Credit: Krista Simmons