The House Education and Labor Committee has been holding hearings on school lunch programs and child nutrition. The $8 billion bill, Nutrition for America’s Children Act of 2010, would increase funding for school lunch programs and child nutrition.
La Vida Locavore has excellent summaries of the hearings here and here. Tom Colicchio, the celebrity chef, provided testimony at one of the hearings. CNN talked with him about his testimony. More background on the hearings can be found at ABC, the Washington Post, and Tapped.
Most members of the committee seem to agree about the facts. Kids are getting substandard food at school. It's too salty and fatty. Children who are in poverty are even more likely to be obese, because they are eating the wrong foods. There is a correlation between school performance and access to quality food.
The debate is about parental responsibility and money.
Providing a healthy lunch is costly. Alice Waters said that schools needed to spend $5 per kid to provide them with a proper meal. The money would have to go retraining staff, getting access to fresh foods, and purchasing new equipment. Schools need new equipment, so they can steam vegetables instead of frying them. Where's that money going to come from in this economy? Will healthy lunches be simply too expensive. and kids who don't qualify for the school lunch program won't be able to afford the meal?
Should the government be telling parents and kids what to eat? Should food stamps be limited to healthy foods? If kids want french fries, why not give it to them?
I'm pessimistic about this bill going further in this crappy economy. Schools are struggling to maintain other basic services in schools right now. Tater tots and hot dogs are the least of their problems.
There are other low cost solutions. Schools should provide nutritional charts about each meal that is served in the cafeteria. If McDonald's has to tell you how many calories are in a Big Mac, then the school should tell parents how many calories are in a corn dog. (Yes, my kid's school serves the kids corn dogs and mozzarella sticks for lunch.) They should allow parents into the cafeteria to see what their kids are eating. They should teach parents about packing a healthy lunch.
The PTAs really need to step up in this area. They can demand the school provide nutritional information. If the school menu says that there are salads available for kids, they need to make sure that those salads actually appear on the line. They can sponsor "salad days" at school, instead of "pizza days." They need to hold the schools responsible for not fattening up the kids.