As schools resume and prepare to follow new lunch rules, federal fruit and vegetable snack program is up for debate

Bloomberg photo by Ian Waldie

With students and teachers returning, school food-service directors are working to implement the new federal school lunch regulations that take effect this year. This would be a good story for local news media, since it affects almost every student.

As school resumes, another school food program is up for debate. Congress is deciding whether frozen, canned and dried produce should be included in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. House Republicans say yes, to save money and make a wider range of options available year round. But the Senate is pushing to keep the program limited to fresh fruit and vegetables only. The argument — or food fight, as Dina ElBoghdady of The Washington Post calls it — has trade and other groups weighing in.

“If the goal is to expand and improve upon childhood nutrition, it doesn’t make sense to limit the kinds of fruit and vegetables that schools serve,” said Corey Henry, a spokesman for the American Frozen Food Institute. “Let the schools decide.” But Sandi Kaur, acting director of nutrition services at the California Department of Education, disagrees, saying “it’s the fresh that makes this program unique.”

More than 50,000 students in 125 Kentucky elementary schools benefit from the program, run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. To see which schools participate, click here. The program allows schools to distribute fresh fruit and vegetables as snacks to students and has “raised consumption in participating schools by a quarter-cup per day, or 15 percent,” ElBoghdady reports. “The increase did not contribute to weight gain, suggesting that the fruit and vegetables replaced other foods.” Last year, USDA spent $150 million to pay for the snacks for 3 million children. (Read more)

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