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Schools have proven they can handle stronger nutrition standards

The schools of America deserve a round of applause. They worked hard to meet the school nutrition standards set forth by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, and it shows: newly published USDA data demonstrates that an impressive 97 percent of schools are now meeting the standards.

It wasn’t easy. Schools had to get creative with their menus and figure out how to use whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta; how to remove pickles and other high-sodium foods from their menus; how to make the required one serving of fruit and one serving of vegetable attractive to kids. But the majority of schools did it.

{mosads}And even though some media coverage might convince us otherwise, parents and students appreciate their schools’ efforts. Seventy-two percent of parents approve of national standards for school meals and snacks, and students are consuming 13 percent more of their school lunch entrees.

Opponents of the new nutrition standards often argue that they are too rigid or difficult for schools to meet. But only 3 percent of schools have not met the standards, and a mere 0.15 percent of schools reported dropping out of the National School Lunch Program due to difficulties meeting the standards.

And even though the School Nutrition Association would have us think that school staff are struggling to get students to stomach the new lunches, a nationally representative study of US public elementary schools showed that 70 percent of school staff think that students like the new lunches.

So isn’t it flabbergasting that some members of Congress are trying to roll back the school nutrition standards in this year’s Child Nutrition Reauthorization? Even though evidence shows that most schools have successfully met the standards, and that most parents and students approve of the changes, some politicians want to throw all of that progress out the window.

What if 3 percent of high schoolers failed the high school exit exam in their state, and the Department of Education lowered the minimum score to pass more students? Wouldn’t parents and educators be outraged at this “solution?”

Yet, rolling back the school nutrition standards would be akin to lowering the minimum passing score. If anything, Congress should push to raise nutrition standards. The fact that 97 percent of schools can pass this “test” suggests that they have the potential to achieve even more if challenged.

As members of Congress continue to negotiate Child Nutrition Reauthorization, they must remember that schools are a place of learning and growth. For a few hours every weekday, parents entrust schools to nurture their children’s minds and bodies — in the classroom, on the playground, and in the cafeteria. Congress should support schools in this endeavor by strengthening nutrition standards that the majority of schools have already proven they can meet.

Bion is a Master of Public Health candidate at the University of California, Berkeley.


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