House politics attempt to intervene in school lunch program

21 May

Moi wrote about the school lunch program in School dinner programs: Trying to reduce the number of hungry children:

There are some very good reasons why meals are provided at schools. Education Bug has a history of the school lunch program

President Harry S. Truman began the national school lunch program in 1946 as a measure of national security. He did so after reading a study that revealed many young men had been rejected from the World War II draft due to medical conditions caused by childhood malnutrition. Since that time more than 180 million lunches have been served to American children who attend either a public school or a non-profit private school.

In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson extended the program by offering breakfast to school children. It began as a two years pilot program for children in rural areas and those living in poorer neighborhoods. It was believed that these children would have to skip breakfast in order to catch the bus for the long ride to school. There were also concerns that the poorer families could not always afford to feed their children breakfast. Johnson believed, like many of us today, that children would do better in school if they had a good breakfast to start their day. The pilot was such a success that it was decided the program should continue. By 1975, breakfast was being offered to all children in public or non-profit private school. This change was made because educators felt that more children were skipping breakfast due to both parent being in the workforce.

In 1968, a summer meals program was offered to low income children. Breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks are still available to students each year, during the summer break. Any child in need can apply for the program at the end of the school year. Parents that are interested in the summer meals program should contact their local school administration.

Since its inception, the school lunch/meals programs have become available in more than 98,800 schools….

Hungry children have more difficulty in focusing and paying attention, their ability to learn is impacted. President Truman saw feeding hungry children as a key part of the national defense.

Nirvi Shah reports in the Education Week article, U.S. House Offers Not-So-Fresh Version of Fruit and Vegetable Program:

For at least the second time, a U.S. House of Representatives committee is offering a version of the massive farm bill that would dramatically change a snack program that is intended to develop a taste for fresh produce in children from low-income families.

In the version of the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act marked up by the House Agriculture Committee this week, the word “fresh” is stricken from language about the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.

The program, created 11 years ago, provides snack-sized servings of fresh fruits and vegetables to children in high-poverty schools, children who are the least likely to be exposed to these items outside of school. (Fresh produce can cost far more than dried, canned, or frozen versions, and more than fried, salty, and sugary snacks.) The theory is that, by introducing the items to children, they will develop a taste for them, making them lifelong consumers of items like kale, carrots, and cantaloupe.

One recent study showed that kids at schools with the program actually do eat more fruits and vegetables.

“This is targeted at children most likely not to have access to fresh items,” said Kristy Anderson, the government relations manager for the American Heart Association. Her organization supports serving children other forms of fruits and vegetables—canned, frozen, and dried—at school meals, but it wants to see the integrity of this program remain intact.

“This could open doors to a whole cadre of things that aren’t even fruits and vegetables,” Anderson told me.

She said it would only take the creativity of food engineers to change the program completely. Sugary fruit snacks, high-calorie trail mix, and even fruit-based candy could end up in the program if it’s changed. “I’m sure somebody out there could figure that out.”

Why change the program? It’s worth about $150 million per year—a lot of money over the five-year life span of the farm bill—and could open up a new market for frozen, canned, and dried fruit and vegetable companies, and possibly others in the food industry.

I talked to some schools about the possibility of this change when it came up last year, and they didn’t like it.

Moi wrote about the politics of the school lunch program in The government that money buys: School lunch cave in by Congress:

There is the saying that “we have the best government that money could buy. We don’t. We have the government that money interests will allow. Moi recently discussed the political wrangling about school lunches in the post, School lunches: The political hot potato The World Hunger Education Service describes why nutritious school food is so important in the article, Hunger in America: 2011 United States Hunger and Poverty Facts:


Fifty-five percent of  food-insecure households participated in one or more of the three largest Federal food and nutrition assistance programs ( USDA 2008, p. iv.) The programs are the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the new name for the food stamp program (Wikipedia 2010), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) (Wikipedia 2010), and the National School Lunch Program (Wikipedia 2010).

SNAP/Food stamps  The Food Stamp Program, the nation’s most important anti-hunger program, helps roughly 40 million low-income Americans to afford a nutritionally adequate diet. More than 75 percent of all food stamp participants are in families with children; nearly one-third of participants are elderly people or people with disabilities.  Unlike most means-tested benefit programs, which are restricted to particular categories of low-income individuals, the Food Stamp Program is broadly available to almost all households with low incomes. Under federal rules, to qualify for food stamps, a household must meet three criteria (some states have raised these limits)….

National School Lunch Program The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program that provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children from low income families, reaching 30.5 million children in 2008.  Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free meals. Those with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced-price meals, for which students can be charged no more than 40 cents. (For the period July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2010, 130 percent of the poverty level is $28,665 for a family of four; 185 percent is $40,793.) Children from families with incomes over 185 percent of poverty pay a full price, though their meals are still subsidized to some extent by the program. Program cost was $9.3 billion in 2008. (USDASchool Lunch Program)

Ron Nixon reports on the weasels in Congress who backed down on new rules which would provide more nutritious meals for school children. Many of these children rely on school breakfasts and/or lunches as their primary source of nutrition for the day. In the New York Times article, Congress Blocks New Rules on School Lunches, Nixon reports:

A slice of pizza still counts as a vegetable.

In a victory for the makers of frozen pizzas, tomato paste and French fries, Congress on Monday blocked rules proposed by the Agriculture Department that would have overhauled the nation’s school lunch program.

The proposed changes — the first in 15 years to the $11 billion school lunch program — were meant to reduce childhood obesity by adding more fruits and green vegetables to lunch menus, Agriculture Department officials said. 

The rules, proposed last January, would have cut the amount of potatoes served and would have changed the way schools received credit for serving vegetables by continuing to count tomato paste on a slice of pizza only if more than a quarter-cup of it was used. The rules would have also halved the amount of sodium in school meals over the next 10 years.

But late Monday, lawmakers drafting a House and Senate compromise for the agriculture spending bill blocked the department from using money to carry out any of the proposed rules.

In a statement, the Agriculture Department expressed its disappointment with the decision.

While it is unfortunate that some in Congress chose to bow to special interests, U.S.D.A. remains committed to practical, science-based standards for school meals that improve the health of our children,” the department said in the statement.

Food companies including ConAgra, Coca-Cola, Del Monte Foods and makers of frozen pizza like Schwan argued that the proposed rules would raise the cost of meals and require food that many children would throw away.

The companies called the Congressional response reasonable, adding that the Agriculture Department went too far in trying to improve nutrition in school lunches.

Unfortunately, the lobbyists won this battle against the interests of children.

For an incisive analysis of the school lunch lobby read  The School Lunch Lobby  by Ron Haskins  which was published in Education Next


School dinner programs: Trying to reduce the number of hungry children                                            

School lunches: The political hot potato             

The government that money buys: School lunch cave in by Congress

Do kids get enough time to eat lunch?                           

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