As Congressional debate on child nutrition program reauthorization is expected to accelerate in September, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack reaffirmed his support for the school nutrition standards and announced new grants to help schools prepare healthy meals for their students.
 
The child nutrition program are set to expire Sept. 30, and Congress must act by then to pass child nutrition program reauthorization or extend the deadline.
 
In remarks to the Center for American progress in early September, Vilsack urged Congress not to roll back any of the nutrition standards that schools have been required to comply with beginning in 2012-13 as a result of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act. 
 
The School Nutrition Association has recommended dropping the mandate that schools serve a half cup of fruits and vegetables at school meals based on cost and plate waste arguments. The association also has asked Congress for a 35 cent per meal increase in federal reimbursement for school meals.
 
Vilsack said the new nutrition standards are working.
 
“Over the course of the past several years, we’ve seen significant acceptance of these standards,” Vilsack said in the release. He said 95% of schools are certified under the new standards, and he said polls have shown that 90% of the American public believes it is appropriate to have national standards for school meals. 
 
“It’s embraced by the students themselves, with 70% of elementary students and nearly 60% of high school students embracing the standards,” he said. “That’s resulting in more fruits and vegetables being consumed and resulting in less plate waste.”
 
On Sept. 8, Vilsack spoke at the National Press Club and again encouraged Congress to act quickly to reauthorize a strong Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and support the ongoing success of the healthier meals now being served in schools across the country. 
 
In a Sept. 8 statement, United Fresh president and CEO Tom Stenzel applauded Vilsack’s message for Congress to go forward, not back, to strengthen child nutrition programs.
 
“So much progress has been made in recent years to implement healthier school meals and snacks; kids and their parents are counting on us not to give up now,” Stenzel said in the statement.
 
In related news, Vilsack announced the USDA will be awarding be awarding over $8 million in grants to help school nutrition professionals better prepare healthy meals for their students. About $2.6 million dollars in grants will support implementation of new national professional standards for all school nutrition employees who manage and operate the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, according to a news release form USDA. The USDA said $5.6 million will go to help states expand and enhance food service training programs and provide nutrition education in school, child care, and summer meal settings, according to the release.