High school student chefs cook up support for healthy lunch standards

By Whitney Forman-Cook

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 10, 2015 - In an effort to rally support for the reauthorization of higher nutrition standards mandated by the Child Nutrition Act, Democrats used a student cooking event today on Capitol Hill to showcase just how user-friendly those standards are.

The top nine high school teams in this year's Cooking Up Change competition served lawmakers their winning dishes using recipes that follow both the budgets and USDA guidelines used by their own school cafeterias. The teams came from Houston; Washington, D.C.; Detroit; Chicago; Jacksonville and Orlando, Florida; Wichita, Kansas; Memphis, Tennessee; and Orange County, California.

Lets Talk Food

Each meal had to integrate whole grain-rich products, reduced amounts of sodium, and a half-cup of fruits and vegetables into their dishes. Examples of recipes served at the event include citrus parfait, vegetable lo mein, Haitian spice chicken and Japanese onion soup.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, hosted the luncheon event and encouraged attendees in her opening remarks to support higher nutrition standards for children, especially the use of more fruits and vegetables in school lunches.

“What we're talking about is pretty simple and is symbolized by a half-cup: a half-cup of fruit or vegetable at every meal for our children in schools. It's not too much to ask, it's pretty basic,” she said.

Stabenow told reporters that she and Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., have been in “important conversations” on the nutrition standards reauthorization and she was hopeful they could pass a bipartisan bill that builds on the parties' common interests. She wasn't sure when such a bill would be introduced, but was hopeful it would be before Sept. 30, when the current law's authorization runs out.

“I don't think we have agreement yet. If we can get agreement, and I think we'll put all our collective might into it, then we'll be able to get it done, but there's a lot of questions right now about actually getting a bill” written and introduced, she said.

She said the current half-cup fruit and vegetable requirement with school meals was “not too much to invest in” and isn't one of the standards she wanted to compromise on. Stabenow said that Democrats had already shown some flexibility on the sodium and whole grains requirement in the last appropriations bill.

“USDA is very willing to work with schools where there are issues” meeting nutrition requirements, but 95 percent of schools have been able to meet the current nutrition standards, she said.

“I know that change is hard, (but) we asked (schools) to make change, and I think they've stepped up to do that and have done a really great job. What we can't do is go backwards.”

Last week, House Democrats Tim Ryan of Ohio, Sam Farr of California and Frederica Wilson of Florida introduced a bill called the Salad Bars in Schools Expansion Promotion Act.

The bill would require USDA to develop a promotional plan for salad bars in schools that participate in federal lunch programs. Using that plan as a guide, USDA would support the expansion of salad bars by providing technical training and grants to schools for the utilization and purchase of salad bar equipment.

Notably, the proposed legislation would be “budget neutral,” as it does not mandate Congressional appropriations, so USDA would be responsible for awarding salad bar grants using existing resources. 

Stabenow said that a salad bar expansion bill provision could very well be included in the Senate's Child Nutrition Act reauthorization bill, but didn't offer any details.

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