Analysis

Reauthorizing the Child Nutrition Act

3 recommendations that put health first

  • February 20, 2015

In February 2016, Pew published an update to this piece: Policy Recommendations for Child Nutrition Reauthorization.

The federal Child Nutrition Act oversees all national child nutrition efforts, including the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program, which provide meals to millions of children. The lunch program alone serves more than 30 million students per day and operates in nearly 95 percent of public schools.

Congress typically reviews and reauthorizes the Child Nutrition Act every five years. The current iteration of the law—the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act—expires Sept. 30. The foods and beverages available in schools significantly affect children’s health and weight, because many students consume more than half of their daily calories at school. With that in mind, The Pew Charitable Trusts recommends that Congress:

    1. Maintain science-based nutrition standards for school foods.

      When the U.S. Department of Agriculture sets school nutrition guidelines, it seeks to ensure that the standards align with the age-appropriate scientific recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and that they take into consideration schools’ unique needs.

      Congress should preserve USDA’s authority to determine and maintain science-based nutrition standards.

    2. Assist schools with their kitchen equipment and infrastructure needs.

      To serve healthier meals, most school districts in the United States (88 percent) require at least one additional piece of kitchen equipment, and more than half (55 percent) need some infrastructure update. Although more than 90 percent of districts serve meals that meet current nutrition standards, they could do so more efficiently if their equipment and infrastructure needs were addressed.

      To assist schools in better utilizing federal, state, and local resources, Congress should:

      • Establish a loan guarantee assistance program within USDA to help schools finance substantial equipment and infrastructure investments.
      • Provide targeted grant assistance as catalyst funding for smaller kitchen upgrade projects or for purchases of high-quality, durable equipment such as commercial ovens, steamers, and stoves.
    3. Ensure that school food service professionals have access to adequate training and technical assistance.

      Directing, managing, or supporting a school nutrition program requires a wide range of skills. School nutrition directors report that training is one of their greatest challenges.

      Congress should strengthen training and technical assistance to school food service personnel by:

      • Directing USDA to provide grant assistance on a competitive basis to eligible third-party institutions to develop and administer training and technical assistance for school food service personnel.
      • Addressing technical or legal barriers that adversely affect USDA’s ability to deploy and fund easily accessible and topically relevant training assistance for school food service personnel.

Related Items