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School Lunch Improvements Proposed

Increasing funding for farm-to-school programs is part of a bipartisan bill in the U.S. Senate aimed at changing school lunches. (Greg Stotelmyer)
Increasing funding for farm-to-school programs is part of a bipartisan bill in the U.S. Senate aimed at changing school lunches. (Greg Stotelmyer)
February 3, 2016

FRANKFORT, Ky. - A bipartisan bill in the U.S. Senate would reauthorize child nutrition programs, including the national school lunch and breakfast programs, for the next five years. Among the changes is funding for more kitchen equipment to enable staff to prepare freshly-cooked meals for students.

Claire DiMattina, executive director of the group Food Policy Action, says this comes after a trend of school districts centralizing their food preparation and using frozen meals and vegetables.

"Because we're talking about serving fresh fruits and vegetables, and heart-healthy meals and meals with less sodium, and some of those things you just can't serve if you don't have a place to prepare them," says DiMattina.

The legislation would require that 80 percent of grains served in schools are whole-grain enriched and that less sodium is used in foods. It also would double funding for the Farm to School Grant Program.

Steve Muntz, a farmer in Montgomery County, is executive director of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, which helps farmers in 13 states produce locally-grown food. He says farm-to-school efforts are gaining traction in Kentucky.

"It is a win-win because the schools are getting some better food," says Muntz. "Kids are starting to learn about growing food. It's a little bit of a challenge for farmers to sell directly to schools because sometimes it's a wholesale market and you really have to be able to ramp up your production."

The bill would also expand summer meal programs, which DiMattina says would have a direct impact on children.

"For a lot of those kids, these are one or two of the only healthy, nutritious and hopefully delicious meals they're having every day," she says. "So, it's important that we're providing meals that are healthy, that they want to eat, that are providing the necessary nutrients."

The former "Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act" that went into effect in 2010 has been criticized for encouraging a menu of foods many children won't eat. This bill is the reauthorization of that legislation, with changes.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY