From the Kitchen to the Congress: A Child Nutrition Reauthorization Blog

School Nutrition Summit Includes Agriculture & Education Officials, White House Assistant Chef

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School lunch was the topic of discussion last Friday as several key Obama administration officials participated in a discussion and cafeteria site visit organized by SNA at Weyanoke Elementary School in Alexandria, Va. Penny McConnell, Director of Food and Nutrition Services for Fairfax County Public Schools hosted the event, with SNA Executive Director Barbara Belmont, SNA Child Nutrition and Policy staff and SNA counsel facilitating the event. Using her experience and expertise in child nutrition, McConnell discussed the struggles that school nutrition programs face and the successes they have had in improving childhood nutrition. Topics included the need for increased funding, balancing students tastes with good nutrition, incorporating locally grown and fresh items, and addressing food allergies.

White House Assistant Chef, Sam Kass attended the meeting and participated in the discussion. Several USDA and Department of Education officials were involved in the discussion as well including:

  • Christie Vilsack, wife of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack
  • Karen Duncan, wife of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
  • Dr. Janey Thornton, Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • Matthew Yale, Deputy Chief of Staff, U.S. Department of Education
  • Massie Ritsch, Deputy Assistant Secretary for External Affairs and Outreach, U.S. Department of Education

Several Congressional staff members were also in attendance, along with senior staff members from both the USDA and Department of Education.

This meeting was a tremendous opportunity to discuss the challenges facing the school nutrition programs with key policy makers.  Congress is likely to begin work on Child Nutrition Reauthorization in the next few months.  Last Friday’s cafeteria site visit and discussion provided SNA with strong access to these important individuals, allowing them to enjoy a school lunch and witness first hand the importance of these programs.

Kitchen Cabinet Sits Down for Lunch - Washington Post

Senate Approves Agriculture Appropriations Bill, Extending Current Reauthorization

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The United States Senate voted on Thursday, October 8, 2009 to approve the agriculture appropriations conference bill by a vote of 76-22.  The legislation passed the House of Representatives earlier in the week.  President Barack Obama is expected to sign the measure soon.

Under this bill, the current Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act is extended for one year. The legislation also allocates $25 million in funds for equipment assistance grants for school nutrition programs.  School nutrition programs that did not originally receive grants through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act are eligible to apply.


Congress Fights Hunger, One Hour Each Day

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Your Member of Congress has been asked to help fight hunger, one hour each day during this year’s August recess.  In a Dear Colleague letter, members of the House Hunger Caucus are requesting that their fellow Congressional representatives take an hour each day to focus their efforts on fighting hunger in their Congressional districts.  The letter doesn’t specify activities, but points out that raising awareness is a key step in putting an end to the problem of hunger.

The August recess is a great time to encourage your member of Congress to come visit your school cafeteria.  If school’s back in session, invite them into enjoy lunch with the students and see how the school nutrition program operates in their community.  This is also a great opportunity to discuss Child Nutrition Reauthorization issues.  If school hasn’t started, make an appointment to meet at their district office. 

For ideas on hosting a Member of Congress in your school, be sure to check out SNA’s Cafeteria Site Visit 101 resource.

USDA Report Finds Eliminating Reduced Price Category Increases Participation

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The Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a report late last week on the factors that lead to school nutrition program participation.  The study looked in particular at economic factors and found that students who qualified for reduced price meals were more likely to participate if they received those meals for free, suggesting that the 40 cent co-pay is a barrier for some families. SNA is advocating for an elimination of the reduced price category as part of Reauthorization.

The study results found that elementary aged children are more likely to participate than students who are in middle or high school.  The taste of the food also plays an important role, as students that enjoy the meals are more likely to participate than those who do not. More information on this report can be found at Factors Associated with Meal Participation.