It’s often said that Southerners really know how to eat. Sure, sometimes it’s an insult, but, more often than not, it’s a tribute to well-crafted, fine-tuned, and delicious recipes handed down from generation to generation. I should know. In my lifetime, I’ve eaten plenty of shrimp and grits, Po-boys, barbecue, and fried green tomatoes … believe me, the list goes on and on.

While this may come as a surprise to many, not all Southern cooking is deep-fried and heavy. A lot of our regional cuisine depends on fresh seasonal foods and a skilled hand at seasoning. Whether it’s simply steamed, fresh-picked vegetables or our native Georgia peaches, I and many of the constituents I serve are trying to eat healthier. Not only is the trend healthy for us, but it is particularly beneficial for our children, many who suffer from childhood obesity and resulting quality of life issues.

Every child deserves a shot at a healthy and productive life. That’s why I applaud the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and First Lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaMichelle Obama celebrates success of ‘Black Panther’ How textbooks shape teachers — not just their students Michelle Obama dedicates Valentine's Day playlist to Barack Obama MORE for their efforts to improve school lunch nutrition standards. The dietary guidelines have been phased in over the last few years and, in addition to whole grain requirements, new rules establish fat, calorie, sugar and sodium limits on the meals students eat every day. I firmly believe the improvements are an investment in our children’s future as well as the future success of our nation.

Eating healthier has been a continual learning process for me, and I can see why it may be difficult for students to replace French fries and pizza with whole wheat products and vegetables. Understanding how the new requirements affect the taste of students’ meals, the USDA has been responsive by allowing more time for the food industry to develop tasty products that also meet healthy standards. Additionally, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is partnering with private companies to develop revolutionary technologies that are expected to whet all of our appetites for nutritional and healthy protein products without altering the flavor or quality of those foods. One of those groundbreaking firms is based in Albany, Georgia.

By utilizing whey, a byproduct of cheese processing, the Jones Laffin Company and leading USDA scientists are working to develop a texturized whey protein (TWP) that would perform at significantly higher percentages than traditional whey protein. Already, TWP is proving to be effective at increasing protein levels in pastas, cereal, soups, cakes, and cookies, often without affecting taste. Imagine if our kids were offered these kinds of healthy, yet tasty, goodies in the school lunch line. Without a doubt, this transformative technology pursued by Jones Laffin and USDA holds a lot of promise in addressing the obesity epidemic in America.

As a Southerner who loves food, I have to often remind myself that the ultimate decision of what I eat rests only with me. It’s the same way with our children. Since our kids consume half their meals in schools, we – lawmakers and policymakers; Democrats and Republicans; school administrators and nutritionists; parents and students; food manufacturers and scientists – have to work together to make school meals healthier, more nutritious, and tastier. Jones Laffin and USDA’s ongoing public-private study in my district is a good example of the kind of joint effort necessary to continue implementing healthy school lunch standards. And it’s the kind of cooperation I hope will lead to the entire country really knowing how to eat.

Bishop has represented Georgia’s 2nd Congressional District since 1993. He sits on the Appropriations Committee and serves on the subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies.