Legislation that seeks to transform school meals in large part by adding more fruits and vegetables has passed Congress.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act reauthorizes federal child nutrition programs. The Senate passed the bill in August and the House approved it Dec. 2 by a margin 264 to 157.

The bill was sent to President Obama for his signature, the first major legislation to clear the lame duck session of Congress.

The act increases federal reimbursement for school lunches by six cents per meal, the first increase in more than 30 years. The addition is tied to increased servings of food consistent with dietary guidelines, including fruits and vegetables.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee, said in a statement following the vote that the legislation provides the first non-inflationary increase to school lunches since 1973 and will help fight childhood obesity.

Child nutrition bill is a ‘historic win’
Child nutrition bill is a ‘historic win’

DiSogra

Once standards are established, opportunities for fresh fruits and vegetables at schools will expand significantly, said Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C.

“It will open up major new opportunities for the industry to provide fruits and vegetables in that whole school environment,” DiSogra said Dec. 2. “This will create an added push to the momentum to have more fruits and vegetables in school meals and healthier foods available in vending and a la carte line.”

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement the legislation allows the U.S. Department of Agriculture reform school lunch and breakfast programs for the first time in 30 years.

DiSogra said the USDA will now work to bring school meals into alignment with dietary guidelines.

“Thirty one million kids a day eat school lunch times 180 school days a year — that’s huge,” DiSogra said.

United Fresh president Tom Stenzel said in a statement that giving students healthier options at school will foster a healthier country.

Numerous groups support the legislation.

Child nutrition bill is a ‘historic win’

Pivonka

“Once this bill goes into effect, children will receive a consistent message about healthy food choices whether they are eating in the cafeteria, at the a la carte lunch line, or grabbing a quick snack from a vending machine,” said Elizabeth Pivonka, president of the Hockessin, Del.–based Produce for Better Health Foundation in a news release. “This will have a real impact on the health of our next generation.”

Washington. D.C.-based Child Nutrition Initiative said in a news release that the bill will help curb obesity rates. The group said the law also will give 120,000 more low-income children free school meals, provide 29 million more after school suppers to at-risk children each year and provide $40 million for farm-to-school programs.

The Greenfield, Mass.,-based Organic Trade Association praised the legislation’s inclusion of a $10 million organic pilot program for school meals.