Guest blogger: Let’s Move Child Nutrition

Debra Eschmeyer is an Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy Food and Society Fellow and the Marketing and Outreach Director of the National Farm to School Network. On Twitter:

Let’s Move Child Nutrition
By Debra Eschmeyer
Can you show the Mom-in-Chief how motivated we are to pass the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act?
Back in April I attended the White House Childhood Obesity Summit on behalf of the National Farm to School Network as reported here. The purpose of the summit was to gather input from experts to create a roadmap leading to children reaching adulthood at a healthy weight. 
Recently the White House Childhood Obesity Report was released. One particular challenge of the taskforce was to create benchmarks of success, leading to the focused goal of returning to a childhood obesity rate of 5% by 2030. For more detailed summaries of the report, check out Jane Black’s Washington Post piece or Obamafoodorama’s post.  For those specifically interested in linking local food and agriculture to federal nutrition programs, you will be as pleased as I am to see Farm to School is included as recommendation 3.6: “USDA should work to connect school meals programs to local growers, and use farm-to-school programs, where possible, to incorporate more fresh, appealing food in school meals.” Schools gardens are also recommended: “Where possible, use school gardens to educate students about healthy eating.” 
It is great to see the Administration embracing proven strategies for healthy children and communities. However, as Michelle Obama said, “Our work has only just begun.”
Now we need to crank up the heat. Now we turn prose and a host of good ideas into actual policy. Critical questions remain: Is there legislative muscle behind this report? Will the East and West wings put their weight behind passing a strong Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) this year? CNR is the bill that decides what’s served in your child’s lunch room and much more.
Michelle Obama could test drive the new action plan now and encourage the Senate to pass the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act as soon as possible. 
The Senate child nutrition bill has stalled and delay could mean death to our efforts thus far.  Time is short; the Senate must act soon or there won’t be a child nutrition bill this year at all, and that means we lose the possibility of a small increase in reimbursement rates. It would also leave us with junk food in the school halls, scrap new funding for expanding farm to school programs, and eliminate changes enabling schools to serve free meals to all students in low income schools.
Do we want more funding than the proposed $4.5 billion over ten years? Absolutely, but the only way we’re going to get the bill through Congress this year and have the chance of more dollars for child nutrition is by keeping the wheels rolling.
Your voice is critical to turning school food reform dreams into reality. And, it turns out, taking action is one of the taskforce’s key recommendations. As Michelle Obama said, “We are calling upon mayors and governors; and parents and educators; business owners and health care providers. Anyone who has a stake in giving our children the healthy, happy future that we all know they deserve. All we need is the motivation, the opportunity and the willpower to do what needs to be done.”
There are opportunities lurking around every corner, but the opportunity to make significant, national policy changes that will touch the daily lives of children don’t come knocking every day.  Child Nutrition Reauthorization is the opportunity to focus and unleash the motivation and willpower we’ve demonstrated through millions of signatures added to petitions, thousands of letters written by children and parents to Congress, hundreds of action alerts sent out, and even very fun spoofs such as Lunch Encounters of a Third Kind…all for the purpose of creating a healthier generation through school meals.
So Michelle Obama and Taskforce, Let’s Move! and let’s do whatever it takes to get the Child Nutrition bill moving through the Senate, through the House, and into the lunch room!
Help children like this 7th Grader from Georgia tell Senators to improve school lunch!
Dear Senator Saxby Chambliss:
I wish to commend you on your job of representing our state at the caliber that you do.  Not many people are capable, or willing, to put themselves into your position.  However, I feel that something is amiss at our public schools.  Almost every day, I walk through the lunch line, eyeing up the different choices for my meal.  Looking down at my tray, I see that each part of my meal (an entrĂ©e and two sides, accompanied by a half-pint of milk) is roughly the same shade of unappetizing brown.  The average daily lunch consists of pizza, fries, and chips, all of which are filled with carbohydrates and salt.  This produces both an un-healthy lunch, as well as an unappetizing one.
37% of children in Georgia are obese, one of the highest percentages in the nation.  This high percentage of overweight children eventually leads to overweight adults, on which the future of our country rests.  This obesity is a national crisis, as almost 27% of all military age men are too overweight to keep up with the strict regime of the army.   I urge you to help those of us in public school obtain a healthier, not to mention better tasting, lunch. If you could help support the development of more Farm to School programs in the area, as well as advocate a change toward better food through the Child Nutrition Act, the public schools and the children within them would be better off for it. Please make your best attempt to pass this act to and to forward the progress of the Farm to School programs.  
G M, 7th Grader, Georgia

Kids get it, will Congress?
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7 thoughts on “Guest blogger: Let’s Move Child Nutrition

  1. For other readers who are interested in this as well, and interested in signing petitions and writing letters, Marion Nestle's blog "Food Politics" often has posts regarding these issues and she will often include links that can help us direct our comments and emails to the right people. Here is a link to one of her recent posts on this topic:

    I actually found out about this blog because she mentioned it in one of her posts.

  2. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for putting more money toward better school food. My fear is that those pennies..and it is pennies will get hijacked on the way to our kids by big agri-business and that the schools will get more of the same high sugar/low nutrient foods they are being served now.
    How can we disconnect the politics of big business from the food our children eat in the schools?

  3. This is like tossing a bottle of Dasani on a raging wildfire. In the long history of our government, the more regulation and power it got, the worse the outcome.

    Money allocated in this program will no doubt create another government buearacracy that talks a lot but does little. The USDA sells the crap school food to most of our country's schools and their nightmarish regulations are a large reason why schools opt for the processed stuff which is already "pre-approved." Now a convoluted law is supposed to magically change how the USDA has worked for the last 25 years? Seriously doubt it.

    The answer has to be determined on a local level. If parents are fed up with the lack of quality of their students' school lunches they should make them themselves. Lost revenue to the school is the prime motivator for change in one way or another.

    We don't need our government to embrace more "nanny state" policies. And controlling the food you can put on somebody's plate is the height of nanny-statism. It won't work. It has never worked.

    Stop looking to the government to solve everybody's problems.

  4. How are school lunches "the nanny state"? Please use your own words and stop quoting meaningless sound bites from the television. These are children and they need to be educated and fed — there is no butt-wiping going on.

    The whole program of NSLP was started because kids were suffering from malnutrition in the early part of the last century. By feeding those kids, your ancestors and my grandparents, we were able to create "the greatest generation." My grandparents are my idols — they did so much for this country and they couldn't have done without help from the government.

    Although I don't believe parents should have to send their children with lunches every day, I do believe that parents should pay more money for quality food at school. I would pay at least $600 per year per kid for high-quality hot lunches to be made on site from scratch for my family. I would hope that by doing that, I could subsidize the lunch of a different student whose family couldn't afford to pay a lunch fee.

    Why don't you go find some volunteer work working with the poor? I think it would teach you something. Have you ever had a kid tell you he/she was hungry because they didn't get breakfast? Next time I hear that I'm going to tell that kid "Get out of my face, I'm not your nanny."

  5. Just a bit on a nit- pic…..

    Using my daughter's school as an example….we had approximately 187 instructional days, with 38 of them being minmum days (no lunch served). That leaves 149 lunches, or about $4 a lunch….assuming about a 50% subsidized school lunch….that leaves about $2 a meal. I realize that the feds do pay some…but I'm not sure there's enough for a quality meal left over, especially once you factor in staff time and benefits….

    I know my daughter's school just signed a contract with a private company, for a "healthy" school lunch program…and the cost is $5 a meal, and we are not eligable for any federal monies to off-set the cost. So if the kids don't pay…they don't get a free lunch. (School does have some "emergency" food for kids who forget their lunch)

    149 x 5 = would be $745 a year…..or twice that if you were buying lunch for someone less fortunate….

    I know on the rare times I buy from a healthy dining choice – I spend btw $7-10 a meal….so is $4 really possible? Esp considering free/subsidized school lunches?

  6. Amen, Mrs. Q.

    Even big food companies can change if they feel the right kind of pressure.

    Take for example, Sodexo's recent restructuring of the Peninsula School District (in WA State) food program:

    It didn't happen on its own, or through the workings of the free market. It happened because parents, teachers, and yes, governmental entities (and federal funds) all worked together to demand change.

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