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Robert Longley

Bill Would Help Schools Provide USDA's Healthier Meals

By October 4, 2012

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A bill just introduced in Congress would help cash-strapped school districts prepare and serve the healthier school meals required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in January 2011.

Since the adoption of the USDA's updated nutrition regulations for school meals, many schools found they lacked the money needed to upgrade their cafeteria equipment and train their staff to meet the new requirement. To their possible rescue, comes U.S. Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), whose bipartisan School Food Modernization Act would help schools replace their outdated cooking equipment and train their cafeteria staff on how to prepare meals on the USDA's new menu, and do all that at no additional cost to taxpayers.

Part of Rep. Latham's School Food Modernization Act (H.R. 6481), would create a competitive grant program within the USDA offering up to $10 million a year in grants to help schools obtain training and technical assistance for their cafeteria employees.

In addition, the bill would create a program under which the USDA would back low-interest loans from banks and other financial institutions to help schools purchase major equipment or make other improvements to their cafeteria facilities. According to Rep. Latham, the USDA's experience in managing similar loan programs for farmers and ranchers would allow it to run the School Food Modernization Act's loan program at "no cost" to taxpayers.

Also See: The US Food Safety System

"The health and safety of America's school kids should be a vital concern for all of us," Congressman Latham told the House. "Parents should be able to send their children to school without worrying that outdated and substandard conditions and practices could threaten their kid's health."

"Many school kitchens were built decades ago to simply re-heat and hold foods. As a result, many cafeteria workers don't have the training or tools required to bake, grill and roast healthier meals," said Jessica Donze Black, project director for the Pew Health Group's School Foods Project in a press release. "In fact, a recent survey of school food service providers found that nearly half still rely on deep-fat fryers, and that the biggest challenge in preparing healthy meals is recruiting workers who have the necessary cooking skills."

The School Lunch Program: Established in 1946, the USDA's National School Lunch Program provides low-cost or free lunches and snacks to nearly 32 million children each school day in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions nationwide. In fiscal year 2011, Congress authorized $11.1 billion for funding the National School Lunch Program.

Also See:
USDA Requires Healthy Recipes for School Meals
USDA Makes 'Pink Slime' Optional in School Meals
Could New USDA Meat Labels Hurt Consumers?

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