What is the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act?
According to the Food and Research Action Center (FRAC), more than 1 in 5 children live in households facing a constant struggle against hunger. The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization (CNR) Act provides the federal funding for school meals and child nutrition programs. The purpose is to ensure low-income children have access to healthy and nutritious foods. Every five years, Congress reviews the funding levels and develops new policies to strengthen and improve the programs. The current law for CNR is the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) of 2010. The deadline for reauthorizing CNR was September 30, 2015. This leaves many wondering what will happen to the children served by the programs funded by this act.
Nutrition Standards for School Meals
HHFKA 2010 required USDA to implement nutrition standards based on the 2009 recommendations issued by the the Institute of Medicine (IOM). Prior to HHFKA, the nutrition standards and meal requirements for school meals were based on the 1995 Dietary Guidelines and the 1989 Recommended Dietary Allowances. IOM’s recommendations are in line with the latest Dietary Guidelines and Dietary Reference Intakes. Here is a summary of the nutrition standards for school breakfast and lunch:
- Establishes new age/grade groups for menu planning that enables schools to provide age-appropriate meals.
- Increases the amount and variety of fruits and vegetables offered to students.
- Requires students to take at least half cup of fruits or vegetables for the meal to be reimbursable.
- Requires all grains to be whole grain rich by SY2014/15.
- Mandates fluid milk to be low-fat or fat-free.
- Limits the total calories that can be offered in a meal with a minimum and maximum range for 5 day school week average.
- Significantly reduces the amount of sodium allowed over a 10-year period.
Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act 2010 - Five Years Later
The USDA reports that HHFKA and other similar strategies have slowly reversed the childhood obesity trend and children have more energy to learn and grow, greater opportunity to thrive, and better overall health. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics emphasizes that HHFKA ensures the youngest, most vulnerable populations have access to the nutrition they need to grow into healthy adults.
However, the School Nutrition Association (SNA) has a different viewpoint. SNA represents more than 55,000 school nutrition professionals that serve students and manage school meal programs. They believe “USDA’s regulations go too far, driving up costs and waste and causing many students to swap healthy school meals for less nutritious options.”
Current Status of Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act
The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry had scheduled a markup of a reauthorization bill for September 17. However, the committee chairman, Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) indefinitely delayed the markup, stating that he needed more time to finish writing legislation to reauthorize healthy meal requirements for schools. He said he is still negotiating parts of the bill with Democrats and waiting on the Congressional Budget Office to release cost estimates for the new provisions in the proposed legislation.
Funding for CNR programs and provisions was extended with the continuing resolution that extended funding for the federal government until December 11, 2015. Senator Debby Stabenow (D-Mich), ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, indicated that a reauthorization bill will be completed by the end of the year.GA Foods supports HHFKA and healthier meals for children. Through our partnerships with child nutrition programs funded by CNR, we are making a difference in the lives of children. Many school programs depend on us to provide them with meals that meet the nutrition standards, so they can focus on educating and nourishing young minds. GA Foods will continue to closely monitor the reauthorization of CNR and any potential changes to the law.
Download our free white paper, Reauthorization of Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act: Striking a Balance, for more background and information on HHFKA.