Statement of CSPI Deputy Director of Federal Affairs Colin Schwartz

The Center for Science in the Public Interest commends the House Education and Labor Chairman Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA), Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), and fellow committee members for the introduction of the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act, the House’s Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill. Short of ensuring free school meals for all children, which Congress has tried but failed to do, the bill expands access to free meals for high-need schools and provides additional food assistance to children during the summer. 

Virtually all schools were meeting strong, evidence-based nutrition standards before the pandemic by providing more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; less salt and saturated fat; and healthier beverages and snacks. However, over the years these standards have been undermined and attacked, most recently by the Trump administration that was struck down by a federal court. The pandemic then made it more difficult for schools to provide healthy meals due to supply chain issues, increased food costs, and labor shortages.

Importantly, the bill will help schools get back on track to meeting nutrition standards. First, it requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture to align the nutrition standards for school meals, snacks, and beverages with the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Currently, they are not aligned with the science on whole grains, sodium, and added sugars. For the first time ever, the bill requires that the nutrition standards for summer meals are also aligned with the science. Kids should have the same access to healthy meals during the summer as they do during the school year. The bill also provides $3 million annually through a newly established technical assistance grant program to better aid schools in meeting those nutrition standards.

Among other welcome improvements, the bill provides protections for children from unpaid school meal fees, an additional meal or snack for children in full day care, and expanded access to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. The bill also increases reimbursement for lunch by ten cents and establishes commodity assistance for breakfast.

The school meal investments in this legislation are critical to supporting children’s health and can help ensure millions more children will have the nutrition they need to learn, grow, and thrive.