USDA chief: Congress must act on food program

USDA chief: Congress must act on food program

Capitol Hill Building closeup, Washington DC(Photo: Songquan Deng, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack is urging Congress to approve the passage of a food program that has raised nutritional standards for meals and snacks served to children in schools and community programs across the nation but has also been criticized for resulting in less appetizing food at higher costs to school administrators.

Congress has until the end of September to reauthorize the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, championed by first lady Michelle Obama as part of her “Let’s Move” campaign.

The law ushered in new nutrition guidelines intended to offer healthier food choices to low-income children, adding more whole grains, lowering sodium levels and adding more fruits and vegetables to meals served. It’s part of an overall effort to address an epidemic of childhood obesity that costs Americans $190.2 million each year.

But the program has also come under some criticism by school children who have complained about unappetizing offerings, often tweeting photos of mysterious looking school lunch offerings under the hashtag of #thanksmichelleobama. School lunch administrators have also expressed concerns about increased food costs.

Vilsack told The Tennessean that the measure was a “bold step in redesigning the school lunch and school breakfast programs.” Many children receive between one-third and one-half of all their daily nutrition in schools, he said.

A survey by the Centers for Disease Control demonstrated that children are, in fact, consuming more nutritious meals since the measure was implemented.

“I think the vast majority of young people in this country are OK with the meals and like the meals,” Vilsack said. “There may circumstances that kids may not like them.”

To address that, Vilsack noted programs to pair school districts struggling with the guidelines with local chefs and with other school districts who have been more successful in creating appetizing and healthy menus.

The measure also includes programs to feed low-income children during summer months when school is out of session, and to provide supper and snacks to children in after-school and community programs during the school year. In Tennessee, those programs add up to $80 million to reach low income children.

DHS officials are seeking more flexibility in the program, including how, when and where meals are served, as well as more tools to root out fraud while continuing to reach more children. The agency is asking for input and suggestions to be emailed to

It’s unclear whether Congress will act. Vilsack noted there is opposition.

“I think part of it has to do with the desire on what I think is a minority of members of Congress who really do want to take a step back to eliminate or change the standards and who feel like we’ve been too strict in terms of calories,” he said, noting there was a “desire to roll back, take a step back, to slow down the process that we think will undermine historic changes we made in 2010 and do a disservice to children.”

Reach Anita Wadhwani at 615-259-8092 or on Twitter @AnitaWadhwani.

Read or Share this story:

Source: Tennessean
USDA chief: Congress must act on food program


Add Comments


You may also like...