Congress has pledged to review the Child Nutrition Act this spring, and based on recent findings concerning the National School Lunch Program, changes can’t come soon enough.
As of last month, 62 percent of public school students who participate in the program – which provides low-cost or free lunch meals to qualified students – cannot afford the average $2.92-a-day cost for a hot lunch, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Nutrition Service.
To qualify for the program, which falls under the Child Nutrition Act, a four-person family must earn $28,665 or less for a free lunch and $40,793 or less for a low-cost lunch.
While 31.2 million students are enrolled in the program, many students who qualify aren't being reached. U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, D-N.C., noted that federal nutrition assistance such as food stamps increased 22 percent nationally in the past year, while applications for free and reduced lunches increased just 3 percent.
This news follows reports about the quality of meat being served through the program. In December, USA Today reported that schools have received millions of pounds of beef and chicken from the government in the past three years that wouldn't meet quality or safety standards of many fast-food restaurants.
The Agricultural Marketing Service, the USDA agency that buys meat for the school lunch program, said inspection of meat served in schools exceeds those used before meat can be sold to the public. But, after USA Today presented its findings to USDA officials, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack promised an independent review of testing requirements for ground beef sent to schools.
The last update of quality standards for school lunches was in 2000.
What changes should the government make to the National School Lunch Program? Should it lower the price for families to participate in the program? Should it raise standards for meat served in schools?