While the food safety bill has hit a last-minute snag, Congress managed to pass its second important piece of food legislation this week, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kid Act, better known as the Child Nutrition Act. It was backed by hundreds of health, education, and anti-hunger groups.
"Simultaneously tackling childhood obesity and hunger, this bipartisan bill gets a lot of junk food out of schools and a lot of healthier food into schools," said Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, one of the groups out front in the fight to pass the bill.
The bill updates, for the first time in 30 years, the nutrition standards used to influence the food served in school cafeterias, and makes subsidized breakfasts and lunches more easily available to more kids at a time when millions of families are struggling to pay for food and other necessities. According to Environmental Working Group, "some research has shown that children receive roughly half their daily caloric intake at school. Yet many school lunches supported by federal funds do not meet its own nutrition guidelines."
Here are some of the best features of the bill, which President Obama is expected to sign into law:
It will feed more kids
The law will pay to offer more free and reduced-price meals including breakfasts, lunches, after-school meals and summer lunches to students whose families qualify.
It will improve nutrition of those meals
For the first time in 30 years, the nutrition standards of lunches will be revised so that less food of little nutritional value is available. School lunch workers will also receive nutrition training.
It will use more local farm produce as ingredients
The bill includes support for "farm-to-cafeteria" programs that some communities have used successfully to boost nutrition in schools while supporting local farming economies.
It will make it harder to serve junk food
Groups say that the bill "sets the stage" for the elimination of soda and other junk foods from schools nationwide, primarily by requiring the USDA to update the standards used to determine what can be served in school vending machines, a la carte lines and elsewhere on school grounds. There is also a provision meant to prevent the diversion of money meant for healthy foods to junk food.
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