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Federal Bill Offers Improvement for TN School Lunches

There is a bi-partisan bill expected to be introduced to the full U.S. Senate that would offer improvements to school lunches and breakfasts. (anitapeppers/morguefile.com)
There is a bi-partisan bill expected to be introduced to the full U.S. Senate that would offer improvements to school lunches and breakfasts. (anitapeppers/morguefile.com)
January 27, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Washington is closed for business this week as the nation's capital digs out from a record-setting snowstorm. But before lawmakers got snowed in, members of the U.S. Senate released a bipartisan bill that would reauthorize child nutrition programs, including the national school lunch and breakfast programs for the next five years.

The bill doubles funding for the Farm to School Grant Program, streamlines summer meal coordination and expands summer meal programs. Claire DiMattina, executive director with the advocacy group Food Policy Action, says if passed the legislation would have a direct impact on children in the state.

"In Tennessee alone nearly 700,000 children participate in the National School Lunch Program, making this re-authorization incredibly important," says DiMattina.

The legislation would also require that 80 percent of grains served in schools are whole grain rich and puts in place sodium-reduction requirements. Once lawmakers are back in session, the bill will have to be added to the calendar to be considered by the full Senate.

The bill also includes funding for expanded kitchen equipment to enable staff to prepare fresh-cooked meals for students. This comes after a trend of school districts centralizing food preparation and utilizing frozen meals and vegetables. DiMattina says what's on a school lunch tray is important.

"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 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 with food many children won't eat. This bill is the reauthorization of that legislation and includes some changes.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN