Thursday, March 25, 2010

Healthy and Hunger-Free

Here's some news for policy wonks and school lunch advocates alike.

Yesterday, the Senate Committee on Agriculture unanimously approved Senator Blanche Lincoln’s  Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The next step is for this bill to be marked up, read, and voted on by the entire Senate.

At this moment, when nearly one of every three American children is overweight or obese, this is definitely a step toward helping our children eat better and live longer, healthier lives.  But, there's a lot of chatter over whether the bill goes far enough.  First, let's look at some of the things the bill does include:
  • Establishing national nutrition standards for all foods sold on the school campus -- including those in vending machines;
  • Expanding food access to more children and reducing administrative burdens on schools; 
  • Strengthening school wellness programs to have explicit goals and public accountability; and
  • Increasing reimbursement for meals to schools for the first time since 1973.
However, many folks, including Ag. Secretary Tom Vilsack, believe that it doesn't go far enough, and that a more robust bill that supports the President's $10 billion budget request should be passed.  Currently Lincoln's bill is only about half that -- $4.5 million.

Which may still seem like a lot...until you do the math.  The proposed funding increase is merely $0.06 per meal.  Six cents!  There's no way around it -- that's simply not enough.  Schools are already losing an estimated $0.35 per meal (according to the School Nutrition Association), and fresh, healthy food just costs more than processed, frozen mystery nuggets. 

The Local Food Hub works to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to area schools -- whether through the Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program or Farm to School week -- but we know firsthand that every school district struggles to make ends meet.
If we want improved school nutrition, we are going to have to devote some real resources to it: increased spending on food, skilled food service personnel and good nutritional programming.  What do you think?

image credit: back garage/Creative Commons

1 comment:

  1. My children are in city schools and they have never once bought lunches (and certainly not breakfasts) during their tenure as students. The food is simply not healthy or even all that edible. I once talked to the city schools' nutritionist and she said that she did the best that she could, given her incredibly tight budget. I can believe it.

    Remember the Reagan era when ketchup was considered a vegetable? Well things haven't improved much since then. Lots of processed, prepackaged foods. Not so much in the way of fresh fruits and veggies.

    Last year, my daughters' elementary school was part of a pilot program to bring fresh fruit/veggie snacks to the kids five days/week. The funds were tight, so parents volunteered to staff the program. After a couple of months, it became clear that there wasn't enough money to provide fresh fruits and veggies every day, so it was cut to three days/week. Every little bit helped, however, as 40-43% of the school's population receives free/reduced breakfasts and lunches and a lot of those kids are only getting healthy-ish food at school. One thing I heard over and over when I went to the school to chop fruits and veggies was how many children had never seen, say, a kiwi, much less eaten one. Sad.