Child Nutrition Bill Passes

After a year and a half of campaigning, the House yesterday passed the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act [PDF]. Our nation’s school children were long overdue for an improved child nutrition bill that would allow schools to serve an improved, healthier school lunch.

There were significant and frustrating compromises made along the way: most recently, the funding of the bill with SNAP money—an aggressive move made initially in the Senate version, but then eventually also adopted by the House—that was likely intended to split the school food advocacy community and thus kill the bill. The school food advocacy community were rightfully outraged at the notion of taking money from hungry kids to….feed hungry kids. We described our somewhat reluctant shift of tactic in an earlier blog post—you can click here to read it.

Ultimately 1,350 organizations ranging from Feeding America to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition to Slow Food USA joined together in a letter to the House of Representatives urging them to pass the bill before the end of the year. Today, it seems, that pressure finally worked.

It’s an imperfect bill, one that fell short of our hopes, however, it has several important gains within. What’s good about this bill:

More money! While 6 cents doesn’t sound like very much—and is far short of the dollar we campaigned for early on—it represents the first non-inflationary increase ever made. School nutrition directors struggle to get food on trays at the current rate. More money, no matter how little, is essential.

Better nutrition standards. In the past there has been all kinds of food sold on school campuses that is exempt from meeting nutrition guidelines. This bill sets out a plan for improved standards overall as well as requirements for all food—not just food in the lunch line—to meet those standards.

Money for local sourcing. This bill makes mandatory $50 million in funding for a competitive grant program supporting Farm to School programs at USDA. Farm to school programs work to get local food into cafeterias as well as to educate students about how food gets from the farm to their plates, cultivating long-term healthy eating habits.

Access. Includes changes that will make it less bureaucratic and complicated for low-income students to qualify and get registered for free and reduced lunch.

So while it isn’t perfect, we applaud the House for passing a greatly improved child nutrition bill.

Originally posted on The Slow Food USA Blog.