By Daniel Weintraub
President Barack Obama has signed an extension of the nation’s child nutrition program, including new provisions designed to make school meals healthier for kids.
The bill authorizes the US Department of Agriculture to update the current nutritional standards for school lunches and to set standards for all food sold on school campuses, including vending machines, “a la carte” lines and school stores.
The idea behind the bill is to bringer fresher, healthier food into the schools, replacing processed food with whole foods whenever possible.
The measure will increase reimbursement by about 6 cents per meal for schools that meet the new standards.
The law also tries to encourage schools to adopt “farm to school” networks and school gardens that lead to the use of more locally grown foods in school lunches. And it expands access to drinking water for school children.
The bill is expected to expand access to free school meals to an additional 150,000 children by using the Medicaid eligibility process to directly certify children for the school meal program.
About 31 million children already receive meals through the school meal program.
A “sample menu” released Monday by the White House demonstrates the ambitious nature of the change the bill contemplates.
Instead of hot dogs with ketchup, pizza sticks or bean and cheese burritos, the menu suggests items such as a chef salad, whole wheat spaghetti and a submarine sandwich with low-fat cheese on a whole wheat roll. Instead of applesauce and canned pears, children would get fresh broccoli and cauliflower, baby carrots and kiwi halves.