Are you satisfied with the lunches served at your child's school? Every five years a window of opportunity opens up in which changes can be made at the federal level to your school's lunch program. That window is open now — and it's just about to close.
The Child Nutrition Act of 2004 will expire on Sept. 30. This act sets standards for the types of foods that are required and prohibited from the lunches served at schools. The National School Lunch Program feeds about 30 million children per day in more than 101,000 public and nonprofit private schools across the country. Also covered under the act is the requirement for the National School Breakfast Program, which feeds 10 million children each day. However, the national nutrition standards and meal requirements for these meals were created more than a decade ago.
When The Child Nutrition Act was reauthorized in 2004, great strides were made in requiring all school districts to adopt wellness policies. The 2009 reauthorization now offers the opportunity to strengthen this requirement by offering resources for implementation of the policies and increasing the funding available for fresh, healthy school food. One portion of the bill would give the USDA authority to update decades-old standards for the food children buy at school stores and vending machines, as well as foods such as pizza and french fries that are sold a la carte in cafeterias.
With a fifth of U.S. children overweight or obese, one of the top priorities for the Child Nutrition Act would be to get junk out of schools and more healthy foods in. Margo Wootan, nutrition policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, agrees. "One of our top priorities is to get soda and junk food out of schools," she says.
Another priority? Breakfast. Ten million children eat breakfast at school each day. These are kids who would not be able to afford breakfast any other way. Starting the day hungry, experts say, affects children's behavior ability to learn.
As you might have guessed, the Child Nutrition Act is extremely important to the health and well-being of the next generation. If you haven't already done so, take a minute to urge your congressional leaders to support a strong, well-funded reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act.