In a rare bipartisan move, The Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously approved a compromise bill that will mostly preserve Michelle Obama’s signature Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA).
Since HHFKA went into effect in 2012, it has been a source of much controversy. Republicans in congress have blasted the bill as overly burdensome on schools and excessive government regulations. The School Nutrition Association – a central voice for school nutrition professionals – has also heavily criticized the act and warned that healthier lunches will lead to a loss of money and increased waste.
Despite its critics, the HHFKA has shown some early success. JAMA Pediatrics recently released a study finding that students now receive healthier meals as a direct result of HHFKA’s passage. Moreover, despite warnings from the School Nutrition Association, there was no large drop off in participation. Researchers found, “within the first year of implementation, most students generally seemed to like the lunches and few complained.”
For more on the HHFKA and its results on schools and nutrition, check out PEP Talks 005 – HHFKA.
For now, at least, it looks as though the senate has avoided a national food fight.
So what changes can schools expect? For starters, 20 percent of the grains schools serve can now avoid being whole grain rich. Previously, schools had to serve 100 percent whole grains. This is seen as a big win for schools because now they can occasionally offer student favorites, like biscuits or flour tortillas. Under the stricter regulations, school districts complained that students would refuse whole grain pasta or bread.
Arguably one of the most controversial rules of the HHFKA – sodium reductions – has also gotten a retouch. While still in effect, sodium cutbacks have been delayed two years from the 2017 target date. Many have argued that there is little scientific evidence proving health benefits at the reduced sodium levels. Included in the compromise is a requirement that the government study the effects of lowered sodium in five years before the next nutrition bill debate in 2020.
A sticking point in the original bill from 2010 is the requirement for students to take a half cup of fruits or vegetables. In a major win for school health advocates, the half cup requirements survived the compromise. Included in the new bill, however, is the use of “sharing tables” – areas students can place uneaten fruits and vegetables that otherwise would end up in the trash.
In an attempt to fix the issue of food waste, the bill asks for the USDA to recommend schools use salad bars so students have more say when it comes to choosing less popular produce.
While not addressing all grievances, the Senate Agriculture Committee’s bill appears to have appeased both sides and looks to pass the senate.