Food and Nutrition

With Child Obesity on the Rise, School Lunches Need a Facelift

| by Mitzi Dulan

We can all picture the typical school lunch: chicken nuggets, French fries, canned fruits and vegetables and a carton of milk. The Child Nutrition Act, which plays a large role in determining the type of food our children are served at school, is set to be reauthorized by Congress on September 30th, 2009. With the skyrocketing childhood obesity rates, Congress is really starting to rethink the policies governing school lunch. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn recently came together with other advocates to propose a plan to improve school lunch. Here are some of the changes they proposed:

1. Increase Federal Funding for School Meals
Currently, the reimbursement rate for school meals is $2.57. This makes it difficult to serve nutritious food, especially with the recent increases in food costs. By increasing federal funding for school meals, schools would be able to purchase more nutritious foods to serve. U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn proposed increasing funding by $0.70. According to them, this increase in funding would allow a student to have grilled chicken breast on a seven-grain roll, steamed broccoli, and a fresh fruit cup for lunch.

2. Strengthening Nutrition Standards and Banning Trans Fats

To ensure the increased funds are spent on nutritious foods, the Act should strengthen nutrition standards to accurately reflect the current dietary guidelines. As we now know, trans fats are the worst type of artery-clogging fat. Many schools across the nation have already begun banning products containing trans fats. Gillbrand and Quinn’s proposal would require this ban for all public schools nationwide.

3. Encouraging Procurement of Local Food
Buying locally grown food helps support local farmers and is better for the environment. Schools have the potential to support these efforts on a very large scale. This also provides the opportunity to teach our kids where their food comes from. You must check out what Alice Waters has done with the Edible Schoolyard! The photo above is from their program! Let’s get edible schoolyards throughout the country.

4. Expanding Eligibility and Streamlining Enrollment
Currently, children across the nation who are living at or below 130% of the federal poverty line ($28,665 for a family of four) are eligible to receive free school meals. This policy puts children who live in cities with higher costs of living at a disadvantage in qualifying for the program. Gillibrand and Quinn propose expanding free meals to all children living under 185% of the federal poverty line ($40,792 for a family of four) for those living in high cost areas.

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What changes in school meals would you like to see?