One domino of child nutrition milestones will lead to others, a leading produce advocate believes.

President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act Dec. 13, raising federal reimbursement for school lunches and setting the table for more servings of fruits and vegetables at U.S. schools. The $4.5 billion legislation, which passed the House on Dec. 2, was signed by Obama at a ceremony at a Washington, D.C., school.

Perhaps by the end of the year, the federal government may release the 2010 Dietary Guidelines and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to issue a proposed rule on revising guidelines for federally funded school meals, said Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.

DiSogra attended the child nutrition bill’s signing ceremony with nutrition advocates, school officials, students, administration officials and members of Congress.

DiSogra said the legislation’s six-cent increase in the federal reimbursement rate for each school lunch has the promise to dramatically improve the well being of more than 31 million U.S. school children.

With greater funds available, the long-anticipated USDA revision of the school lunch program will change the nutrition standards for meals, she said. The regulations are supposed to be based on the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations that came out in October 2009.

“All of us are waiting to see what is in the proposed regulations, and if it aligns exactly with what the IOM said,” DiSogra said.

The institute’s report said the USDA should double the amount of fruit at breakfast and double the amount of fruits and vegetables for lunch. That recommendation will open new market opportunity for growers, shippers, wholesalers and distributors, she said.

“Those partnerships (with schools) are ready to be made,” she said.

The proposed rule may have a 120-day comment period, DiSogra said.

Child nutrition reaction

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee and primary author of the legislation, said the legislation is a critical step toward addressing the epidemic of childhood obesity.

“This bill ensures that our children will receive healthier, more nutritious meals and removes the red tape that prevents so many from participating in nutrition programs,” Lincoln said in a statement. She said the bill provides an additional 29 million meals a year through after-school programs.