(Aug. 4) Reauthorization is a big word to a first-grader.

It also packs a wallop that will affect that first-grader’s day, every school day.

As Congress considers reauthorization of Child Nutrition Programs run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, opportunities and challenges are plentiful.

The USDA has three top goals in the process, according to testimony by Eric Bost, undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services:

  • ensure access for all eligible children by streamlining the application process and administrative oversight.

  • support healthy school environments to address the obesity epidemic by offering financial incentives to schools that meet dietary guidelines.

  • increase the accuracy of eligibility determinations and reinvesting savings in the programs.

These are goals that should result in more consumption of healthful foods, including fresh produce.

During the recent 57th Annual National Conference of the American School Food Service Association, Marshall Matz, the association’s counsel in Washington, D.C., read a letter from Senate Agriculture Committee member Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., announcing her plan to introduce legislation to gradually eliminate the reduced-price lunch program.

That’s the middle tier in the three levels of school foodservice offerings, with the others being either free or full price.

That’s a priority for association members, who say many unqualified applicants are receiving discounted meals for 40 cents, while the rest in the category can’t afford even the lowered cost.

Matz said the cost of eliminating the program could exceed $500 million per year. That tells him legislators expect a lot of new qualifiers for free meals. “Forty cents is keeping a lot of kids out of the program,” he said.

Numerous school foodservice directors cite examples of kids who can’t afford the 40 cents and simply don’t eat many days. That’s a shame, and reauthorization is a chance to fix that, as well as pump up the produce offerings in those lunches and breakfasts.

Let’s hope the first-grader considers reauthorization something that lets him eat healthier foods and grow stronger.