Senate passes legislation to make school lunches healthier, feed more low-income children

By Mary Clare Jalonick, AP
Thursday, August 5, 2010

Senate passes bill to make school lunches healthy

WASHINGTON — Pizzas and hamburgers in the school lunch line would be healthier under child nutrition legislation passed by the Senate Thursday, a key part of first lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to end childhood obesity.

The legislation passed by voice vote would create new standards for all foods in schools, including vending machine items, to give students healthier meal options. It would spend $4.5 billion more over 10 years.

New standards would not remove popular foods like pizzas from schools completely, but would make them healthier, using whole-wheat crust or low-fat mozzarella. Vending machines could be stocked with less candy and fewer high-calorie sodas.

Creation of new standards, which public health advocates have sought for a decade, has unprecedented support from many of the nation’s largest food and beverage companies. The two sides came together on the issue as a heightened interest in nutrition made it difficult for the companies to push junk foods in schools.

Congressional passage of the bill would be only the first step. Decisions on what kinds of foods will be sold — and what ingredients may be limited — will be left up to the Agriculture Department.

The legislation would also expand the number of low-income children eligible for free or reduced cost meals, a step Democrats say would help President Barack Obama reach his goal of ending childhood hunger by 2015.

The bill has been stalled since committee passage in March as the Senate worked on higher-profile matters. But the bill gained new attention as Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat who is in a tough re-election race this year, pushed for its passage just before the August recess.

A similar bill is pending in the House after committee approval last month.

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