School Nutrition Association Flip-Flops on Healthy Kids Act

The School Nutrition Association (SNA) is changing its mind two years after backing President Barack Obama on his efforts to bring healthy meals to schools.

The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act would lower salt and sugar currently found in school lunches, replacing it with healthy alternatives such as fruits and vegetables.  The problem is that Congress has allowed for a $0.06 per meal increase, where health advocates had asked for at least $1.00, writes Michele Simon for Al-Jazeera America.

The group is leading a campaign to allow schools to opt out of the requirements, siting that the cost to replace current school lunches with a healthy alternative is simply too high.

The problem?  Many children are simply throwing away their healthy lunches.

The waste amounts to $684 million each year, said Diane Pratt-Heavner, a spokeswoman for the group. That money, she said, “is enough to serve complete reimbursable school lunches to more than 228 million students.”

Some are left wondering if the group has other aspects persuading their actions.  Recently, the association had more than half of its $10.5 million annual budget paid for by donations from dozens of food companies, reports Ron Nixon for The New York Times.

In reaction to the SNA, the House Appropriations Committee passed a bill that would allow schools to waive the new nutrition standards for the coming school year.  The House is set to vote on the bill after the July Fourth holiday.

The group, which speaks for its 55,000 members, released a statement on July 2, reacting to the recent string of articles written about its change of heart.  Patti Montague, CEO for the group, discussed how as many as 1 million children each day are opting not to purchase school lunches, which is causing school cafeterias to go into debt.  When this happens, money is taken from other school programs to cover the difference.  Montague suggests the group is simply looking to find a common ground between the two extremes.

First, reinstate the initial requirement that 50% of grains offered for lunch and breakfast be whole grain rich, instead of pushing forward new mandates for 100% of whole grains. Second, maintain the reduced sodium levels introduced this month.  Third, continue to offer, but not require, students to take a fruit or vegetable, as this often leads to food waste.  And fourth, allow healthy food items that are permitted on the meal line to also be sold a la carte.

More than 200 organizations, including the National Education Association, have signed a letter opposing the SNA’s stance, asking Congress to remember the importance of the health of the nation’s children and to “oppose efforts to intervene in science-based rules regarding the federal child nutrition standards.”