On Monday December 13, President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, a $4.5 billion expansion of the school lunch program. The bill adds 6 cents per reimbursed school meal, the first noninflationary increase in federal reimbursement of school lunches in more than 30 years. The increase is intended to provide funding to help schools increase the nutritional standards of federally-subsidized lunches. Additionally, the bill increases the number of children eligible for fully or partially reimbursed meals by 115,000 and streamlines the process of receiving free or reduced-price lunches.
The bill also gives the USDA the authority to set nutritional standards for all foods sold in schools, including vending machines, and requires audits every three years to ensure compliance with nutritional standards. A sample menu showing elementary school meals before and after the bill shows that meals such as pizza sticks with marinara sauce with a banana, raisins and whole milk will be changed to meals such as chef salad featuring low-fat mozzarella and grilled chicken with a whole wheat soft pretzel, cooked corn, baby carrots, a banana, skim chocolate milk and low-fat dressing. The bill also aims to source some foods in school lunches from local farms and create school gardens.
Michelle Obama has heavily supported the bill as part of her initiative to reduce childhood obesity and improve child nutrition. She released a statement saying “We can all agree that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, all children should have the basic nutrition they need to learn and grow and to pursue their dreams, because in the end, nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children. Nothing. And our hopes for their future should drive every single decision that we make.”
Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Hunger, Nutrition and Family Farms, was a strong supporter of the bill. The director of legislative services for the Ohio School Boards Association in Colombus, Damon F. Asbury, mentioned concerns about whether the bill provides sufficient funding to offset the increased costs of implementing the new standards.