Congress Upholds School Nutrition Standards — For the Most Part

December 15, 2014

Last week, Congress passed a new spending bill that — for the most part — leaves the national school nutrition standards in tact, though it’s far from perfect.

Last week, Congress passed a new spending bill that — for the most part — leaves the national school nutrition standards in tact. Is it the perfect bill? From our perspective, absolutely not. But we’re certainly pleased to see that the hard work of school and student health advocates paid off in Congress upholding the core of the standards and not offering full-scale waivers.

The bill offers some schools time and flexibility on meeting the increased whole grain requirement that went into effect this school year. (All schools must still meet the previous requirement of serving at least 50% whole grains.) The bill also put a halt on further sodium restrictions until the USDA can prove that doing so would be “beneficial to children.” (We’ll write more on that later.)

All in all, the bill allows for the vast majority of schools — the 90% that are successfully meeting the updated nutrition standards — to move forward as planned with their school meal programs. And that’s a good thing.

While we’ll chalk this one up as a victory for healthy school food, it’s still troubling that there are members of Congress, along with the School Nutrition Association, fighting against healthy school food, knowing full well the health issues — like obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure — that far too many of our children face.

While we recognize and understand the challenges that schools face in meeting some of these standards, and that students may not initially be thrilled with swapping candy bars for fruits and vegetables, we don’t believe that waivers and rollbacks are answer.

We hope that with the time and flexibility offered by the USDA — and now written into the new spending bill — schools that may be struggling to implement the standards will seek to learn from others that are thriving, and that Congress will help schools out by investing further in school food programs, resources and facilities.

With Child Nutrition Reauthorization coming up next year, this spending bill is just the start of what’s surely shaping up to be a big battle over school food. Here’s hoping that the fight will be with the best interest of kids in mind, and not just about politics.