Advocacy Committee member, Lori Kaley and I stopped by Rep. Chellie Pingree’s Portland office this week. We met with Representative Pingree and two of the Congresswoman’s staff members and gave them the good news: The healthy school food standards are working.
In December, 2010, President Obama signed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. This law gave the USDA the authority to update nutrition standards for school meals and to establish nutrition standards for other foods sold in schools though out the school day. In Maine, 91% of schools meet the new standards—nationwide the number is even higher. That means that kids here in Maine—and across the country—are getting the nutrition they need during school. There have been challenges, but that is not unexpected. Change can be hard. A Harvard study showed that food waste has not increased and the GAO reports that kids like the new healthier food and that the trend of decreases in the school lunch participation that began in 2007 will be reversed due as staff and students adjust to the new menu. This change is for the best and, I predict, will lead to healthier kids.
Lori and I had a similar meeting with a local food service director last week. She told us that her school system embraces the new standards and any grumbling she has heard outside her district has been from people unwilling to change their time-held practices. She is incredibly proud of her school’s salad bar and whole grain food. She gets it—as did Rep. Pingree.
In fact, as I perused my daughter’s September lunch menu, I was incredibly proud of the work that the American Heart Association did to make her choices healthier. I never would have considered having her eat the "hot lunch" a few years ago, but when the options include homemade whole grain pazzo bread with cheese and tomato dipping sauce or oven baked fish sticks with a whole wheat dinner roll and corn on the cob and apples, I signed her up. Now, if I could only convince the school district to give her enough time to eat that healthy food.