Expanding School Dinners

Obama’s Law

At the end of 2010, President Barack Obama enacted the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act to ensure there is adequate federal funding to ensure all kids who qualify receive their free after-school dinner program.  Prior to this, only 13 states in the District of Columbia were privy to this.  Today, districts have started developing dinner programs in states that are able to provide them and those states in which funding was available previously but were unaware of this privilege.

More School Dinners

Due to additional funding, this year, the Kansas City School District was able to expand its school meal program.  In addition, various districts – such as Memphis, Tenn., and Oakland, Calif., – also had dinner programs.  The Oakland Unified School District began a pilot program four months ago, providing after school dinners for 11 of its 101 schools. This is expected to expand to another 19 schools by the end of this academic year.  Likewise, Memphis City Schools are providing approximately 14,000 after-school meals daily. Around 84 percent of the district's 110,000 students qualify for free- or reduced price lunches as well.

School Dinner Funding

So where is all this funding coming from for additional school dinners?   The Department of Agriculture's Child and Adult Care Food Program provides the resources which also finances day care programs for children and adults, as well as emergency shelters.

Improved Nutrition Standards

Since for some time now, there has been criticism of the meals not providing adequate nutrition for kids in school, at the end of last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) committed to new nutrition standards for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. Thus meals will include: fresh produce daily; more emphasis on whole-grain foods; low-fat dairy produce and ensuring correct portion size standards are met. These new standards on nutrition mark the first major changes in over a decade-and-a-half to improve nutrition for the 32 million school children.

Mrs. Obama’s Influence?

Perhaps these new standards have to do with the influence of the President’s wife, First Lady Michelle Obama.  In June of last year, she introduced MyPlate as a core part of her campaign against obesity and as a reminder to people about the basics of a healthful diet, before they start eating.  So, perhaps not surprisingly, on January 25th, together with Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, the First Lady announced these new standards for school  meals that are now required by law.