We Need to Stay Strong on School Nutrition Standards

  • September 4, 2015
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Earlier this week, Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, delivered a strong message in support of upholding the nutrition standards set out by 2010’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) in a keynote address at the Center for American Progress. He urged Congress to act quickly to reauthorize the bill. This is an important opportunity for the country to reinforce the good work that was done in 2010, to expand on it, to solidify it, to institutionalize it, and to strengthen it,” he said. “I’m here today to encourage Congress to get back to work as our youngsters are getting back to school. Don’t take a step back, let’s take steps forward. That’s what we did in 2010, and that’s what we should do in 2015.”

And he’s far from alone in his opinion. This is the time to stay strong on the science-based nutrition standards, says Katie Wilson, the Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services.

Congress has until the end of September to reauthorize the HHFKA, when the current version of the bill will expire. And there have been loud voice on both sides: those in support of the nutrition standards and those who would like to see them rolled back.

For Wilson, staying strong on the standards is just the right thing to do: “It’s frustrating; why are we arguing about children’s health?”

Critics say that students don’t want to eat the new, healthier food and that plate waste has gone up with the requirement that students take fruit and vegetables. But Wilson and others understand this change will take time and that backing down because students turned their noses up at broccoli is not the correct response. “Schools are the place to educate children about food and health,” Wilson says. “Kids in the 8th grade don’t want to learn algebra, but we don’t quit teaching it. We have to be the adults in the room.”

Despite the fact that student palates are hard to change, great progress has been made. The latest figures from the USDA show that 95 percent of schools are meeting the updated nutrition standards. Now is the time to double-down and increase support so schools can revamp their training, rethink how they deliver school food and engage students, and invest in new equipment that will allow them to do more scratch cooking.

Four years ago, when implementation started, the standards were pushing the envelope on what types of foods were available in the marketplace, Wilson says. Now, the marketplace is catching up, and vendors are turning out amazing whole wheat pasta that keeps its shape and whole grain biscuits that rival their traditional counterparts.

We can’t continue to make progress if the current nutrition standards are rolled back. Let’s not let that happen. Healthy Schools Campaign stands for healthy school food, and we’re asking you to stand with us. We’ve made it easy for you to send a letter to your Congressional representatives by simply entering your ZIP code via the following link. You can use or revise the templated letter that we’ve created, or write your own. Start your letter here.