Healthy School Meals Act: Key Provisions
UPDATE: Provisions from the Healthy School Meals Act were unanimously approved to be incorporated into the House Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Unfortunately, that bill was scrapped, and the Senate version, which did not contain this provision, was signed into law. PCRM is gearing up for 2015, when the Child Nutrition Act will be reauthorized. We plan to work with Congress to reintroduce and pass the Healthy School Meals Act at that time. Stay tuned.
America’s children are increasingly afflicted with adult diseases, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension, as a direct result of their diet and lifestyle. Schools face economic challenges in providing healthful and nutritious foods. The easiest way to bring down children’s intake of fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol and increase fiber and other nutrients is by providing them with healthy plant-based (vegetarian) choices. Just one low-fat, plant-based meal a week can begin to correct a child’s poor nutrient intake.
The Healthy School Meals Act (H.R. 4870) will improve children’s eating patterns by encouraging the inclusion of healthful plant-based options in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. This important legislation will introduce plant-based foods to schools, increase the availability and affordability of these foods, and provide incentives for schools to provide daily plant-based options. The Act will also remove restrictions on providing nondairy milk alternatives with school lunches, improving the nutrition of millions children who currently lose out on vital nutrients because they are lactose intolerant, have allergies, or choose not to drink milk for other reasons.
Pilot Program: The Healthy School Meals Act directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to conduct a pilot program in which the secretary provides selected school districts with plant-based protein products (center of the plate entrée items like vegetable burgers) and nondairy milk substitutes to evaluate free of charge. The USDA will conduct an evaluation of the pilot program and will be allocated $4 million for program implementation.
More Plant-Based Commodities: Following the pilot program, the USDA will purchase plant-based alternate protein products and nondairy milk substitutes to make available to schools through the commodities purchase program and provide training materials regarding nutritional benefits and preparation of these products.
Incentives for Schools to Offer Healthy Plant-Based Meals: School districts where at least two-thirds of the students are offered plant-based entrées on each daily lunch menu will receive supplemental commodity assistance of 25 percent of their total commodity assistance, which can be used to purchase additional plant-based foods (including fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains) through the USDA commodities program.
Increased Availability of Cow’s Milk Alternatives: An increasing number of children cannot drink milk due to lactose intolerance, allergy, or preference, and are therefore falling short nutritionally. Therefore, schools participating in the School Lunch Program shall offer a fluid milk substitute that meets USDA nutritional standards for calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients. Students will no longer need to provide a written note to choose a milk alternative, and schools will be reimbursed for meals that include a healthful milk alternative.