Child Nutrition Bill Raises Bar for Food Served in Schools

Among the many bills President Obama signed into law during this lame duck session, is one that hasn’t made the news, but which was a priority for Michelle Obama, in her effort to combat childhood obesity.

Obama signed the $4.5 billion Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which will expand free school meals for the needy and make those meals healthier. It also gives the government power to decide what kinds of foods may be sold in schools. 

The legislation increases federal reimbursement for free school lunches by 6 cents a meal at a time when many school officials say they can’t afford to provide the meals. The funds will allow 20 million additional after-school meals to be served annually across the US. Most states now only provide money for after-school snacks. The bill includes a pilot Organic Pilot Program.

House Republicans had blocked the bill, claiming it’s too expensive and is an example of government overreach.

See a sample menu under the new bill.

Elements of the bill include:

Improves Nutrition and Focuses on Reducing Childhood Obesity

  • Gives USDA the authority to set nutritional standards for foods regularly sold in schools during the school day, including vending machines, "a la carte" lunch lines, and school stores.

  • Provides additional funding to schools that meet updated nutritional standards for federally-subsidized lunches. This is an historic investment, the first real reimbursement rate increase in over 30 years.

  • Helps communities establish local farm to school networks, create school gardens, and ensures that more local foods are used in the school setting.

  • Expands access to drinking water in schools, particularly during meal times.
  • Sets basic standards for school wellness policies including goals for nutrition promotion and education and physical activity, while still permitting local flexibility to tailor the policies to their particular needs.

  • Promotes nutrition and wellness in child care settings through the federally-subsidized Child and Adult Care Food Program.

  • Expands support for breastfeeding through the WIC program.

Increases Access

  • Increases the number of eligible children enrolled in school meal programs by approximately 115,000 students by using Medicaid data to directly certify children who meet income requirements.

  • Helps certify an average additional 4,500 students per year to receive school meals by setting benchmarks for states to improve the certification process.

  • Allows more universal meal access for eligible students in high poverty communities by eliminating paper applications and using census data to determine school-wide income eligibility.

  • Expands USDA authority to support meals served to at-risk children in afterschool programs.

Increases Program Monitoring and Integrity

  • Requires school districts to be audited every three years to improve compliance with nutritional standards.

  • Requires schools to make information more readily available to parents about the nutritional quality of meals.

  • Includes provisions to ensure the safety of school foods like improving recall procedures and extending hazard analysis and food safety requirements for school meals throughout the campus.

  • Provides training and technical assistance for school food service providers. 

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