Federal reforms for school meals mandate more fruits, veggies and whole grains

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, August 15, 2011-USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon discussed the reforms to school meals through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 today. As part of these reforms, students will receive one more cup per day of fruits and vegetables as well as more whole grains. 


President Obama signed the Act into law in December 2010, which allows USDA to mandate stricter nutrition guidelines for school food and provides funding for schools that meet nutrition standards. The law also requires school districts to incrementally increase the cost of lunches over time for children who pay the full amount to match the amount of federally paid lunches in the National School Lunch Program. 


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“The heart of the act is the improved meal standards,” Concannon said. “They are the first improvement in meal standards in 15 years. The standards would significantly increase the amount of fruit and vegetables served at lunch, and both fruits and vegetables must be served daily.”


The Act made the first real increase in school meal payments in 30 years, Concannon said. The criteria to earn the increase will be ready when updated standards go into effect at the beginning of the 2012 school year.

The updated nutrition standards are proposed for school meals based on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine. USDA is reviewing more than 130,000 comments from schools, states and parents on the proposed rule.

It would also double fruits served at breakfast, increase whole grains, provide only low or nonfat milk and establish standards for the gradual reduction of sodium in school meals. 

Concannon said that HHFKA saw widespread bipartisan support and that the Senate Committee on Agriculture passed it with a unanimous vote. Support is propelled by statistics on the children's health, including those reporting that one in three children in the nation are categorized as obese and approximately 17 percent of young adults are ineligible to serve in the military because they are overweight. 

“One of the biggest reasons most young Americans are not eligible to serve in the military is obesity,” said D. Allen Youngman, Major General, USA (ret).  “This is a monumental step in the right direction.”

Among other USDA implementations through HHFKA, Concannon announced that USDA provided funds and direction to improve direct certification systems to help more children already receiving benefits from SNAP, TANF and FDPIR gain access to free school meals without the need for completing another eligibility form.

Concannon also announced that schools nationwide reached First Lady Michelle Obama's goal of 1,250 schools receiving HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC) honors for expanding nutrition and physical activity opportunities. HUSSC is a part of the First Lady's Let's Move! initiative to end childhood obesity within a generation. 


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