The importance of healthy meals for our nation’s children

The Child Nutrition Reauthorization is one of the most important ways that we can help ensure children of all ages have access to healthy, quality food. Reauthorizing this bill provides the building blocks for a healthy generation. That is why it is critical that Congress pass a reauthorization that strengthens these programs, not rolls them back.

We all know that young, developing bodies and minds thrive with enough sleep and food, just like adults. But for many children, three square meals a day at home are not guaranteed. Lack of consistent nutrition can lead to a cascade of cognitive delays and medical problems that will negatively impact this nation’s future competitiveness, national security and economic health. It’s simple: America can’t be great on an empty stomach.

During the 2013 school year, more than 30 million children ate school lunch every day, totaling more than 5 billion lunches. More than 70 percent of the children served qualified for free or reduced school meals. These critical programs help to ensure all children, regardless of income, have at least two healthy, nutritious meals a day, and are given the same chance at success both in school and beyond.

In 2010 the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, made real improvements to what children are fed in schools for the first time in decades. New standards required children’s meals to have less salt, sugar and fat. On top of that, they had to include whole grains and at least a half-cup of fruit or vegetables in every meal. That is real progress.

Five years later, today more than 95 percent of schools across the country are meeting these updated standards and are serving meals with less salt, sugar and fat—and we are starting to see real change. Among low-income children, participation in school breakfast and lunch has increased, and consumption of fruits and vegetables is up. In fact, a Harvard Public Health study found that students are now eating 16 percent more vegetables and 23 percent more fruits.

Change has not been easy and it hasn’t come overnight. But now is exactly the wrong time to abandon the progress we’re making and revert back to junk food and high-calorie meals.

Child nutrition programs have a long history of bipartisan support. From the original National School Lunch Act in 1946 to the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act in 2010, Republicans and Democrats united to support children’s health and nutrition. Members on both sides of the aisle have the opportunity to act boldly to continue this trend by putting children’s health before politics and producing a bill that will ensure healthy meals in school for all children.

That is why we are heading to Capitol Hill this week to meet with policymakers to urge them to support these goals. Too often we think our political system is broken, that we can’t get things done, but Congress can prove this perception is wrong. What better way to do it than by protecting access to healthy, quality school meals for all children in this country.

Luchetti is the chief pastry officer at Big Night Restaurant Group. She is the founder of dessertworthy a movement to empower people to be more mindful of their sugar and fat indulgences.  Colicchio is the chef and owner of Crafted Hospitality and the co-founder of Food Policy Action. Healthy meals in schools mean healthy kids. #saveschoollunch and expand the #childnutritionact. To take more action, head to