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Brain Food

New law aims to improve school meals

Signed into law in December by President Obama, the Hungry-Free Kids Act revamps food assistance programs that serve the nutritional needs of more than 25 million American school children. The Department of Agriculture is set to create nutritional guidelines for all foods sold at schools, including vending machines. The new law will allow low-income students to qualify more easily and provide funding for local sourcing and better nutritional standard for students. One of the law’s main goals is to expand the number of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals. For example, schools in high-poverty areas could deem all their students to be eligible, without having to show proof of family income. And all foster children would automatically be eligible. The law also:

  • Establishes a performance-based increase in the federal reimbursement rate for school lunches — 6 cents per meal — to help schools meet new meal standards to provide children with healthier school meals
  • Creates nutrition requirements for child care providers participating in the Child and Adult Care Food Program as well as provides guidance and technical assistance to help providers improve the health of young children
  • Provides mandatory funding for schools to establish school gardens and to help schools source local foods into school cafeterias
  • Strengthens local school wellness policies, requiring all local educational agencies participating in school meals programs to provide opportunities for public input and transparency in the formulation of policies, as well as a plan for implementation and measuring compliance
  • Improves school food financing through initiatives designed to empower school food service directors, improve the financial solvency of the school food service account, protect the federal investment in healthy school meals and ensure that low-income children receive the full value of their meal benefits
  • Provides funding to test pilot projects to improve the way we feed hungry children, including during out-of-school times
  • Requires school food authorities to coordinate with institutions operating the Summer Food Service Program to develop and distribute materials to families to inform them of the availability and location of summer meal sites

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says, “Improving the quality of school meals and the health of the school environment is critically important to the overall health of our kids, in addition to their academic achievement. At the same time, we must improve access to these vital programs and take steps to reduce hunger.” The new law will provide an estimated $4.5 billion during the next 10 years. Many teachers are happy about the law. Teachers and administrators have been clamoring for change to the food policies at schools for years. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says, “Congress approved a bill that will make the most significant investment in the National School Lunch program in more than 30 years. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act will increase healthy choices in school cafeterias across the country. These changes will help schools fight our country’s childhood obesity epidemic and give students access to the nutritional food they need to help them learn.”

Healthy Eating at School

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