WASHINGTON, Oct. 27, 2015 – House and Senate Democrats met on Capitol Hill Tuesday to solicit the help of child nutrition advocates and congressional staffers in their push to reauthorize the Obama administration’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HFKA) – that lapsed last month – and the healthy school meal standards the law put in place.
In addition to speeches, the Democrats set out to prove their detractors wrong by offering attendees the chance to “eat like a kid” with a buffet of diverse school lunch offerings that not only complied with White House’s meal standards, but tasted pretty good, too.
“We know we’re at a crossroads in terms of our children and their health,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., the ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, “And we also know that this is part of a movement; this is a generational change that we are committed to moving forward and we cannot go back.”
In the U.S., child obesity rates have tripled in the last 30 years and 80 percent of 10 to 15 year olds who are overweight will become obese by age 25, said Stabenow. “The numbers are clear,” reauthorizing the child nutrition bill “is about moving forward,” she said.
One piece of the HHFKA requires that all school meals include a half-cup of fruit or vegetables. Stabenow said that standard “is not too much for a child at breakfast or lunch.”
“We can do half a cup,” she said, as she held high a steel measuring cup, garnering a round of applause.
That requirement, and other meal standards, like the 100 percent whole wheat and calorie limit requirements, have attracted criticism from some school districts and the School Nutrition Association, which represents school nutrition directors, who say students don’t buy the healthier options – which cuts into schools’ bottom lines – or they throw the food away without eating it.
The company that catered the event, Revolution Foods, serves 1.5 million hand-made, HHFKA-compliant school meals to students across the country every week. The sampling of fare provided included sausage pizza – which meets HHFKA’s 2022 sodium reduction target – sesame chicken salad, spaghetti and meatballs, and even hot dogs, made from 100 percent pasture-raised beef with no artificial nitrites/nitrates, fillers or preservatives added.
The crowd favorite, however, was the chicken and vegetable potstickers. Within seconds of a potsticker platter hitting the buffet, the potstickers disappeared. Revolution Foods said the recipe includes wrapping a mix of shredded carrots, cabbage, onion and ground chicken in a whole-grain wheat dumpling skin. Like the potsticker itself, the soy sauce is low sodium.
The American Heart Association, one of several organizations that has teamed up with HHFKA proponents through the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity, had its government relations manager, Kristy Anderson, speak at the event on the importance of continuing to decrease sodium content in school meals.
“We are an evidence-based organization” with a “simple” mission: “to keep people from dying,” said Anderson, and that “really starts with kids… in schools.”
“There is a lot of deliberate misinformation out there,” continued Anderson, “so let me be clear. The science on sodium is strong and we are eating dangerously high amounts and it’s making us sick.”
Fourteen percent of children between the ages of 12 and 19 have elevated blood pressure, which is linked to sodium consumption, and 90 percent of children eat too much salt, according to AHA. Currently, school lunches are required to have less than 1,420 milligrams of sodium, but the sodium limit will be gradually reduced in 2017 to 1,080 mg, and again in 2022 to 740 mg. School breakfasts also have graduated sodium limitations.
Anderson said “we need to get down to 2,300 milligrams” per day, per child. It is “a moderate amount” and “where the scientific community agrees” we need to get to, she argued.
Sodium reductions have been a main sticking point for the HHFKA reauthorization, but other initiatives that Democrats would like to see, such as increased funding for the Women, Infants and Children supplemental nutrition program, farm-to-school grants, training and new equipment assistance for schools, and summer feeding programs have all been negotiating items.
With Stabenow pushing, a reauthorization bill is most likely to emerge out of the Senate Ag Committee, but Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., told Agri-Pulse recently that he and others on the panel had yet to strike a deal.
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