Finally, We're Getting Somewhere

If you've ever eaten in a public school cafeteria in Philadelphia, you know what I'm talking about when I say it's bad. Beyond bad. What passes for lunch is gross. Actually, it's worse than gross and it's usually unhealthy. Most schoolchildren toss their lunches in the garbage, meaning that those same kids spend the day hungry. I watched one day as not one child - not one - even touched their "meat patty" in some kind of sauce. One by one, they were ceremoniously dumped into the garbage.

A number of parents that I know have approached the school and the SDP about ramping up the quality of the lunches. We're told the same thing, time and again, "It's out of our hands."

Despite the fact that I don't believe the SDP on this one (friends who teach in near suburban schools tell a different story about what their schools offer), I am aware that there are restrictions on what schools can offer students. Fortunately, that may be changing.

On June 10, 2010, Rep. George Miller of California introduced HR 5504, Improving Nutrition for America's Children Act. There are 33 co-sponsors of the bill, including Reps. Sestak and Platts of Pennsylvania.

A companion bill, S 3307, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, was introduced in May of this year.

A lot of the bill is exactly what you'd think, guidelines for free meals, authorizations for summer food grants, etc. But there is some promising language in the bill when it comes to nutrition. For one, the bill updates the nutritional standards:

As soon as practicable after the date of publication by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services of a new edition of the Dietary Guidelines, the Secretary shall review and update as necessary the school nutrition standards and requirements established under this subsection.

It also requires schools under the Act to provide water for children to drink. I know this sounds like a no-brainer but it's actually fairly radical. My kids don't have the choice to drink water unless they want to line up at one of those horrid fountains.

Also radical? Grants for Farm to Schools and a Green Cafeterias Pilot Program.

There's some good stuff here. Is it enough? Of course not. But it's a good start. Let's just hope that, assuming it passes, Dr. Ackerman and her staff are quick to embrace the new guidelines, suggestions and pilot programs. As a high poverty district, my guess is that Philadelphia would both qualify and benefit from a lot of the potential changes as put forth in the bill.

To read the bill, click over to the Library of Congress. If you have comments for your Representatives in Congress who will be voting on the bill, you can contact them here.


  1. Um my school was 100 percent free lunch and it may not be restaurant quality, they all ate it every day because it was a hot meal, free to them, not to the public, and bottled water? The tap water is safe, I drink it, and they can bring a plastic bottle. And let's spend millions on bottled water when teachers may not be able to come back to work. Parents could also pack a lunch, you remember those days. Any way let's get schools safe and more teachers and parents take responsibilty for feeding you know, thier children.

  2. Your school is very different then. At my kids' school, lunches are thrown away, not eaten. It is not that it is not "restaurant quality" - it is quite bad.

    Many parents do pack a lunch but many cannot afford to. Does that mean that children who cannot afford lunch should have to eat substandard food? With childhood obesity a national concern, providing healthy food for children should be a top priority.

    As for water bottles, they are discouraged inside the cafeteria - apparently for safety reasons. The only alternative is to leave the cafeteria to use the water fountain. The sinks in other areas are clearly labeled "not for drinking."

    I personally believe this legislation is a huge step forward.