The U.S. House Education and Labor Committee yesterday approved the "Improving Nutrition for America's Children Act" to reauthorize the government's nutrition and feeding programs. The bill would extend the requirement to offer milk in the school lunch program and add a program to promote "a la carte" milk consumption among students who do not participate in the school meal programs.
Led by Chairman George Miller (D-CA), the committee also adopted an amendment, offered by Representative Joe Courtney (D-CT), to establish a pilot program that would provide a limited amount of lowfat cheese to a few schools in addition to their commodity purchases.
"I congratulate the House Committee on Education and Labor for its constructive, bipartisan work," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. "This is a bill that will improve the health and nutrition of America's children - a top concern of moms and dads throughout the country. I urge Congress to finish this process by the time kids head back to school this fall."
Overall, the bill, H.R. 5504, would offer schools additional funding for meals and encourage increased participation in the school lunch, breakfast, and after-school snack programs. Also, all food and beverages offered for sale in schools would have to meet minimum nutrition standards that are consistent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
"IDFA applauds the House Education and Labor Committee and particularly the work of Representative Joe Courtney of Connecticut for passing a bill that recognizes the importance of milk and dairy products in the healthy diets of American school children," said Ruth Saunders, IDFA vice president of policy and legislative affairs. "Although the Dietary Guidelines recommend that children over the age of eight consume three servings a day of lowfat milk or dairy products, government reports indicate that over 90 percent of girls and half of boys do not meet these dietary recommendations."
Currently 31 million children, or about half of the U.S. school-age population, participate in the school lunch program. Under the bill, schools must offer a variety of milks that are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. To address declining milk consumption by the remaining half of the student population who do not participate in the school lunch program, the committee authorized another pilot program that, if funded in the appropriations process, would encourage these students to drink milk.
To be eligible for a milk reimbursement or grant under this new program, schools must meet the requirements of USDA's "Healthier U.S. School Challenge Initiative," which has specific requirements for exercise and nutrition. One requirement states that the only beverages schools may serve in the cafeteria and on the school grounds are water, milk, and 100 percent fruit juice.
Pilot Program for Lowfat Cheese
The pilot program to provide lowfat cheese for the school breakfast and lunch programs is an extension of the committee's efforts to encourage schools to adopt more reduced-fat dairy products in their school meal entrees. IDFA sponsored cheese and pizza tastings in the House this past year, highlighting the variety of cheese options available to schools and the success of popular items, such as pizza, in new lower-fat and lower-sodium formulations.
The bill will next be considered by the full House of Representatives, but no date has been set.
For more information, contact Saunders at firstname.lastname@example.org.