Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, Exeter,  visits with Mike Stuart, president of the Maitland-based Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association at the Washington Conference opening reception Sept. 8 on the rooftop terrace of the Charlie Palmer Steak House overlooking the Capitol.
Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, Exeter, visits with Mike Stuart, president of the Maitland-based Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association at the Washington Conference opening reception Sept. 8 on the rooftop terrace of the Charlie Palmer Steak House overlooking the Capitol.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With nearly 500 attendees in Washington for the United Fresh Produce Association’s Sept. 8-10 Washington Conference, fresh produce-friendly nutrition standards for school meals loom large in education workshops and planned lobbying efforts.

On Sept. 9, the event features a general session luncheon workshop, “Why Fighting for Healthier School Meals is so Important.”

Also Sept. 9, conference participants will march on Capitol Hill to make the case that the standards should not be relaxed. The School Nutrition Association has argued to Congress that schools should be able to receive a waiver from the standards if they are losing money trying to implement them.

The produce industry’s position received some support from a new national poll of parents of school-age children, which found that nine out of 10 parents supported the rule requiring schools to serve a fruit or vegetable in school lunches.

The poll, from The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the American Heart Association, asked parents’ opinions of nutrition standards for school meals and snack foods and beverages, according to a news release about the poll.

The poll’s findings come at a time when school districts are putting in place the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards. Those rules set basic limits on the fat, salt and calories in foods and beverages sold through vending machines, school stores and a la carte cafeteria menus.

The poll found:

 

  •  most parents favor nutrition standards for all food served in schools;

  •  72% favor national standards for school meals;

  •  72% support standards for school snacks;

  •  91% support requiring schools to include a serving of fruits or vegetables with every meal;

  •  75% think salt should be limited in meals; and

  •  the majority of parents are concerned with the state of children’s health (80%) and with childhood obesity (74%).

 

In a statement Sept. 9, Tom Stenzel, United Fresh president, said the poll reflects the fact that parents want their children to have healthier meals and snacks at school.

“This new national poll underscores the strong support by parents for the new healthier school meal standards that require more fresh fruits and vegetables,” Stenzel said in the statement.

“Their voice joins public health authorities, the National PTA, teachers and others in their steadfast support for healthier school foods.”

Stenzel said in the statement that “there can be no going back” to water down the modest requirement that children take at least half a cup of fruit or vegetables at breakfast and lunch.

“Instead, we should be looking for ways to reach our public health goal of half the plate being fruits and vegetables, not just half a cup,” Stenzel said.