White House, SNA mark School Lunch Week

By Daniel Enoch

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WASHINGTON, Oct. 13, 2014 - This week is National School Lunch Week, and the School Nutrition Association and the White House are using the occasion to restate their opinions on the changes in school lunch nutrition guidelines.

In a news release, the School Nutrition Association praised cafeteria professionals for their hard work and creativity. The group also repeated assertions that many school districts can't afford the stricter guidelines called for under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and that large numbers of students are either not taking advantage of the “healthier” meals, or throwing their food in the trash.

Lets Talk Food

The SNA, which represents 55,000 school nutrition professionals nationwide, points to USDA  estimates that new nutrition standards will force schools to absorb $1.2 billion in new food and labor costs this fiscal year. 

“SNA supports strong federal nutrition standards for school meals, including limits on calories and fat, mandates to offer students more fruits and vegetables, and reasonable sodium and whole grain requirements,” the group said, adding that it “is requesting commonsense flexibility under the rules to help students adjust to healthier meals and protect the financial stability of school meal programs.”

President Obama, meanwhile, in his National School Lunch Week proclamation noted that 30 million children depend on the program, and that for many, it's their only source of nutritious food. He pointed out that when he signed the 2010 Act, he was expanding access to healthy meals.

“Students now have more opportunities to eat healthy foods than ever before, including new options in vending machines and a la carte lines,” he said. “And first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative has brought communities, schools, and elected officials together to promote nutrition and healthy lifestyles and empower children to make healthy choices in school and at homes.”

The arguments echo those the two sides have made before Congress, which is weighing the SNA's request for changes in the nutrition requirements. Among other things, the SNA wants to be able to maintain the 2012 requirement that half of grains offered in school meals be whole grain rich, instead of requiring that all grains be whole grain rich. It also wants to be able to suspend further reductions in sodium levels until SNA believes scientific research supports such cuts. The group also wants to be able to offer, and not require, students to take a fruit or vegetable with meals, a move the organization says will reduce food waste.

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The administration and Congressional allies have countered with statistics that show one-third of American children or adolescents are overweight or obese, and as a result at risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and Type 2 diabetes. Panels of retired generals and admirals have testified that the alarming number of young people rejected for military service because they are overweight is putting national security at risk.

During the week ahead, school cafeteria professionals nationwide are being urged to launch creative marketing campaigns and host cafeteria events designed to encourage students to eat healthy school meals. 

The SNA notes that “these efforts to promote fruits, vegetables and other nutritious choices included in school meals are more critical than ever as school meal programs face challenges, including declining lunch participation and revenue, escalating food costs, and waste.”

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