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The Child Nutrition Program Needs Flexibility

Growing up, my mom, Avis, was always quick to remind me to finish all of the vegetables on my dinner plate. Similarly, she never let me leave for school in the morning until she was sure I had eaten a hearty breakfast. I might have grumbled a bit about those vegetables at the time, but it turns out she was right. Studies show that nutrition plays an important role in children’s development

Not all children have a daily reminder to eat their vegetables or a parent to pack a lunch for them in the morning. The stagnant economy of the last six years means some families are struggling to put enough food on the table for their children. All children deserve access to healthy, nutritious meals and, in many instances, child nutrition programs fill that gap. Thankfully, these programs have played an important role in providing healthier options and achieving outcomes for our children.

Unfortunately, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act threatens these important nutrition programs. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was signed into law in 2010 and unleashed a tidal wave of new regulations on school nutrition. These new regulations are restricting child nutrition programs’ ability to feed students. The numbers don’t lie: since implementation of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act began, 1.2 million fewer kids per day are participating in the National School Lunch Program

I recently met with several of Arkansas’s school nutrition professionals to discuss how federal regulation of school lunches is hurting Arkansas school children. Their message was clear. We must roll back these regulations and allow the nutrition programs to continue helping children in need.

The status quo is unacceptable. We must simplify the nutrition standards and provide flexibility to local school districts. There are immediate steps the Obama Administration could take to help these programs. For example, the USDA could keep the whole grain requirement at 50 percent versus the 100 percent required by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act or reevaluate their new, more stringent sodium regulations.

Recently, I joined several of my colleagues in writing to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack expressing our concern over this matter and asking the USDA to provide schools with increased flexibility in implementing child nutrition program regulations. Rest assured, I will continue to work to ensure child nutrition programs remain accessible for all those in Arkansas and across the country.

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