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Free school meals for foster children announced

February 3, 2011 |  6:06 am

Foster children around the country will automatically be eligible for free meals at their schools, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is scheduled to announce Thursday.

The program is part of President Obama’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Act of 2010 as well as the legislative centerpiece of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative to end childhood obesity and raise a healthier generation of American children.

“Ensuring all children receive nutritious meals at school and through other child nutrition programs is a top priority for the Obama administration and a key step towards ending childhood hunger,” said Kevin Concannon,  USDA undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services, in a statement.

Nearly half a million children nationwide currently fall under the foster care system. California has by far the highest population, with more than 60,000 recorded at the end of 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Los Angeles County has about 15,000 foster children.

“These children already have enough to deal with in their lives; we want to make sure we do all we can so they have access to healthy and nutritious meals,” Concannon said in a telephone interview.

Another part of the president’s initiative involves raising the nutritional standard of school meals, including serving more fruits and vegetables and reducing the content of salt, sugar and fat.

School meals reach nearly 32 million children each school day nationwide. According to the USDA, many children consume about half their daily calories on campus, making school meals a critical component of the national safety net against childhood hunger.

The free meals that foster children are eligible for include those offered by the National School Lunch, School Breakfast, Child and Adult Care and Summer Food Service programs.

Concannon said 27% of Americans between the ages of 17 and 24 are ineligible for military service because they are overweight. “Ultimately this is a matter of national security. If we can get kids to eat healthier and exercise more, this is better for their learning, health and overall quality of life.”

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-- Ching-Ching Ni

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