Our nation’s children got a confusing lesson from Congress last month; pizza is a vegetable. New legislation affecting school meal nutrition ignores the government’s own recommendations to limit potatoes and other starch-heavy foods and raise standards so that a spoonful of tomato paste would no longer qualify as a vegetable serving. The vexing rules also make it harder to reduce sodium or increase whole grains in the lunch line.
While schoolchildren may learn that half their plate should be fresh fruits and vegetables in health class, those options are too often absent in the cafeteria line. Why can’t school meal nutrition agree with the government’s own dietary advice? Special interest lobbyists and money, of course. Instead of looking out for our kids’ health, our leaders bowed to the industry groups making healthy profits off selling junk food like frozen pizza, tater tots and French fries.
At Second Harvest, we are dismayed by this betrayal because we know 38% of local children are overweight or obese, a number that has risen 2.5% in 5 years. Schools have a role to play in teaching children about nutrition and how to make healthy choices. While we may not be able to count on school food improvements coming from Washington, local efforts to combat childhood malnutrition press forward, counting the support of Representative Sam Farr. Programs like the School Food Alliance and Passion For Produce are working hard to bring the community together to educate families about nutrition and make fresh produce readily available. While Congress may be unable to stand up for our schoolchildren, our message is simple: Our kids’ health is not for sale.