Here’s How to Help Save School Food

Here’s How to Help Save School Food

Senate delay on Child Nutrition Reauthorization means more time to make your voice heard

On September 30th the regular deadline passed for Congress to reauthorize the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act , but lobbyists aren't letting up on their push to roll back important standards that ensure healthy school food for all children. At the same time, Congressional progress toward a bipartisan bill has been stalled, and reauthorization by the end of the year seems unlikely. Now is the time to tell Congress to save school food.

The Senate Agriculture Committee was scheduled to mark up a replacement for the HHFKA on the 17th, but the markup was postponed. Though the HHFKA expired at the end of the September, the chairman of the committee, Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, is continuing to negotiate with the panel's ranking Democrat, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, to reach agreement on key issues.

It's crucial that members of Congress – especially members of the Senate Agricultural Committee and the House Committee on Education and the Workforce – hear our voices while they continue to decide the fate of school food. A poll released by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation in August showed that 86 percent of Americans support the current school meal standards that mandate reduced sodium, whole grain-rich breads and pastas, and a serving of fruit or vegetables with every meal. Additionally current research is in, and 70% of food service staff surveyed say that their students like the new lunches. Kids are eating MORE fruits and vegetables under the new guidelines, not less. According to a recent Harvard study, under the updated standards for school meals, kids are now eating significantly 23% more fruits and 16% more vegetables.  Also, reports show that food waste at school is the same before and after the new guidelines, and another Harvard study attributes uneaten fruits and vegetables to short lunch periods, not children’s aversions. Children simply don’t have enough time to eat all the food on their tray.

But the message the majority of Americans are sending is being refuted by other voices reaching Capitol Hill. In September, the School Nutrition Association sent a letter to Congress pressing them to roll back three key standards that were developed by the Institute of Medicine and included in the 2010 HHFKA: ongoing sodium reduction, the requirement that all grains be whole-grain rich (at least 50 percent whole grain) and the requirement that children receive a serving of fruit or vegetable with every meal.

The fruit and vegetable requirement has been hotly debated. Detractors cite plate waste, and supporters refer to studies that show children have been eating more healthy produce since the standard was put in place. We need your help reminding Congress that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9 in 10 children aren't eating enough vegetables, and 6 in 10 aren't eating enough fruit. Early results that show an increased consumption of produce will only improve as students get used to the healthier choices.

Thankfully, the SNA is not the only group writing to Congress. On the same day SNA sent their letter, 378 retired generals and admirals also wrote a letter to Congress asking them "to protect the integrity of the healthy meal standards included in the 2010 reauthorization" as a matter of national security. They point out that "nearly one-third of young people 17 to 24 are too heavy to serve in the military due to a tripling of childhood obesity within three decades."
The military focuses on the real key issue: childhood obesity. In addition to being a threat to our national security, childhood obesity is crippling our children's futures. Obese children are likely to stay obese as adults, and the health effects are devastating.

Now is the time for you to do one thing to ensure that Congress does the right thing. Pledge to contact your Congressional representatives, and tell them to #SaveSchoolFood. And when you write, make sure to send your letter to the following key decision makers:

Honorable Pat Roberts, Chair Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry
Honorable Debbie Stabenow Ranking Member Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry

House of Representatives:
Hononable John Kline, Chair Committee on Education and the Workforce
Honorable Bobby Scott Ranking Member Committee on Education and the Workforce

Over 30 million children eat school lunch every day, and in a nation where over a third of the children are overweight or obese, healthy school lunch is a powerful tool in changing eating habits that are literally making our children very sick. According to USDA, nearly a third of U.S. kids are on track to contract Type II diabetes.  Children who depend on school food for their nutrition need our help to advocate for their health and futures. Contact Congress today and save school food and our children's health.  It should be a birthright in our country that every child – every day has healthy delicious food in school and that no child in our country is ever hungry.