Higher Financial Federal Support to Schools Serving Fresh Fruits, Veggies, Whole Grains

USDA Backs Rewarding Schools Serving Healthy Food
By Christopher Doering

Officials at the USDA are updating the nutrition and meal requirements used for school meals. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Schools that serve more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to pupils should see higher federal support rates than those serving less-healthier meals loaded with high fats and sugar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Tuesday. Child nutrition programs, which include school lunch and breakfast, are due for an overhaul but Congress is not expected to act before 2010. The government has targeted improving the nutritional quality and access to school meals amid rising child obesity rates.

“It is important for us to reward top performers,” Vilsack told the Senate Agriculture Committee. “We would encourage this committee and the Congress to take a look at reimbursement rates that would be linked directly to increased nutritional values.”

He did not suggest how large the bonus should be. Schools get $2.88 in cash and Agriculture Department-provided food for each lunch meal served for free to poor children this school year. School meal programs provide an estimated 40 million meals daily and more than half the student’s food intake during the school day. Students can receive free or subsidized meals if their family’s income is low enough. Some $16.9 billion was allotted for child nutrition in the fiscal year that opened on October 1, up $1.9 million from fiscal 2008.

Obesity rates among U.S. children have doubled in the last 20 years, and almost a third of American children are either overweight or obese. The epidemic of obesity is linked to a host of health problems such as heart disease and diabetes. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln told Vilsack she was willing to pay more to serve healthier foods.

Read more at Reuters.com

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