On Thursday afternoon, Congress passed the “Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act”. This happens once every 5 years, when the government reviews and re-approves the Child Nutrition Act. The law provides federal funding for feeding millions of schoolchildren lunch and sometimes breakfast for free or greatly reduced prices.
Some of the highlights of the reauthorized law:
- $4.5 Billion dollars added to improve the nutritional value of meals served in schools.
- Improved nutrition criteria – more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, less sugars and fats.
- More children – the criteria for eligibility has been expanded to include additional families / schools. The numbers are staggering – 31 million kids participate in the program in some form.
- Farm to fork programs encouraged – Schools to work directly with local farms to provide fresh, local produce.
- USDA to define, within 2 years, guidelines for food sold in schools outside the meal programs (This includes all the crap currently found in vending machines).
What you need to know:
As good as this may sound, here a few reasons why there is a still a long way to go:
- An average school lunch costs $2.72 today. The addition of funds just approved gets translated to a measly 6 cents addition per meal. How much of a difference will that make?
- Much of the food available for such cheap prices is exactly the type of foods kids should not be consuming – sugars and fats. The foods schools can afford are based on surplus agricultural commodities. Unfortunately, that means things like high fructose corn syrup, not heirloom tomatoes.
- At the end of the day, even the most highly motivated kitchen staff needs to work a lot harder to shell out a nutritious meal that is also tasty. This is difficult to do with much higher budgets (College campuses, Google’s Headquarters in Northern California). But how motivated will the kitchen staff be, to work twice as hard, for salaries that will not be raised?
- Some of the added money is actually taken from food stamp funds. For poor kids, that’s less food at home, more at school.
In conclusion, while this law is a step in the right direction, there are still many obstacles to feeding children healthfully.