Washington As part of a sweeping effort to help improve nutrition for schoolchildren and fight childhood obesity, the Agriculture Department is proposing for the first time to require schools to bring their cafeteria menus into compliance with the latest U.S. dietary guidelines.
While the department limits the sale of soda and some junk foods in school cafeterias, it has not required schools to implement the 2005 Dietary Guidelines that call for increased consumption of whole grains, fruit and vegetables. Nor does it regulate vending machines, a la carte menus or other food and beverages sold in schools outside of the cafeteria, although a bill introduced by Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, seeks to do that.
"We are proposing very significant increases in fruit and vegetables," said USDA Secretary Mike Johanns, adding that "we want to reach out to schools and give them more flexibility" in providing healthier options to students.
The USDA is proposing to spend $6 million to provide guidance and technical assistance to school food professionals to bring school meals in line with the latest guidelines.
"We're bringing them up to speed because they are way behind," said Nancy Montanaz Johner, USDA Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, at a briefing on the Farm Bill.
Each year, the USDA provides 9 million breakfasts and 30 million lunches to students. Nearly 60 percent are served free or at a reduced price.