On August 5, the School Nutrition Act Reauthorization, also called Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, was passed by the Senate. Now the bill needs to be rapidly passed by Congress before it expires September 30. The bill is reauthorized every five years to ensure that no further changes or additions need to be made to it. It was passed unanimously by the Senate thanks to the hard work of Senators like Blanche Lincoln, who made it a big priority and spoke on the floor a number of times about it.
The most important aspect of the bill is that it provides the first non-inflationary increase to school lunch spending since 1973. The bill allocates $4.5 billion for school lunches, an increase of about 6 cents per child. And the bill has already been paid for through monies restructured from the food stamp program.
The bill also takes some other crucial steps in the right direction including pushing the Department of Agriculture to establish science-based nutrition standards that are inline with the Dietary Guidelines for all Americans. It is my hope that these standards will include a ban on sodas, sugar sweetened beverages, and prepackaged high fructose corn syrup snacks. These foods are harmful for the planet and they set our nation's children down the road of bad habits.
Quality control is key to improving our nation's school lunch program. How can we expect our children to be at their best if we fill them with junk? School lunches can leave little to be desired in some school districts. According to the USDA, roughly 99 percent of lunches included amounts of sodium above the recommended levels. And, only 26 percent and 34 percent of schools served lunches that met USDA guidelines for total fat and saturated fat.
In addition to reducing the likelihood of producing overweight kids, a problem which plagues one out of three children in this country, a good school lunch can improve overall school performance. One school in Wisconsin changed the face of school lunches in a big way and saw the benefits. LuAnn Coenen, the principal at a Wisconsin high school, reduced fighting, weapons-carrying, and general lack of focus and discipline in the school by changing the menu.