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The School Lunch Program Is Starving
School lunch program
Healthy food creates healthy children, right? True, but in order for children to eat healthy food, they must first have access to it. Unfortunately, healthy food is hard to find in today’s school lunch program. School canteens are woefully underfunded even with the help of the Child Nutrition Act. Enacted by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1963, the Child Nutrition Act is a federal law that grew out of the National School Meal Program, which is responsible for feeding more than 30 million children each day in more than 101,000 public and private schools. However, with inflation and shrinking school budgets, it only gives schools about $1 per student. Cafeterias simply cannot afford the fresh, healthy food that children need. Sometimes schools have no choice but to participate in the Ministry of Agriculture’s commodity program for products such as meat and cheese. These items come from farmers’ surplus stock and, while it can be a cost-effective method of obtaining more expensive food items, it can be disastrous as evidenced in 2008 when one of the largest suppliers of meat to the National School Lunch Program was caught in a slaughter. cows.
Act on healthy children without hunger
The good news is that there is a bill up for a vote in the House of Representatives that would add $4.5 billion over the next 10 years to help feed America’s school children. It would be the first non-inflationary increase in school meal program funding by the federal government in 30 years. The Healthy Children Without Hunger Act was unanimously adopted by the Senate in August 2010 and was scheduled for a vote in the House of Representatives by the end of September. It seemed like a no-brainer, especially since the Senate passed the bill through a process called unanimous consent, where they agreed to pass it without a vote. The bipartisan bill has since been delayed in Congress and will not be voted on in the House until after the Nov. 15 election. This bill is near and dear to the heart of First Lady Michelle Obama, who expects Congress to pass this bill as a key part of her Let’s Go campaign. Her goal is to end childhood obesity within a generation, and spending more money on healthy food in our children’s schools will go a long way toward achieving that goal.
This bill also addresses the lack of adequate funding for low-income students. U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Agriculture, Food and Forestry Committee, explained that the bill “makes a significant investment in new initiatives designed to automatically enroll more qualified low-income children in our national school lunch and school programs for breakfast and includes a major expansion of after-school meal programs.”
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act will also increase school nutrition standards by allowing the Secretary of Agriculture to establish nutrition standards. The Ministry of Agriculture continues to modify and improve nutritional standards for school meals by including more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and less sugar and processed foods. In fact, this law could mark the end of the era of fast food vending machines in schools.
The future of the school lunch program
Assuming Congress passes the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in November, school children across the country will benefit from healthier food options, as cafeterias will have sufficient funds to purchase higher-quality food. $4.5 billion will be distributed over the next 10 years and should put us on track to reduce childhood obesity rates. However, school administrations need additional help to make good use of these additional funds. Since they are used to buying mostly frozen food in bulk, they will need to establish relationships with distributors who also deal in fresh food. Connecting local farmers with schools can help bridge the gap between meat and produce and the hungry children who will eat it for lunch. Unfortunately, fresh, healthy foods tend to cost more than frozen, processed foods, so it’s important for schools to know how to get these foods without breaking the bank. If schools are encouraged (or forced) to remove their junk food vending machines, they need ideas about what types of machines to replace them with. Vending machines are available that offer healthy foods such as baked chips, nuts and dried fruit, as well as drink vending machines that dispense milk, juice and water instead of sugar and chemicals. A few helpful tips, as well as a list of farmers and distributors willing to participate in the school lunch program, will help school administrators make good use of their new funding.
If Congress does not pass this important legislation, it is critical that we teach our children what kinds of foods are healthy and what foods will make them big and strong. Schools can also help in this effort by removing junk food vending machines themselves. Replacing them with healthy vending machines is a huge step forward in limiting the sugar and empty calories kids consume when they’re allowed to make their own snack decisions. School administrators and food service workers are doing the best they can with their budgets, but there are ways to improve children’s health even without $4.5 billion in government aid.
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