Top chefs lobby Congress to freeze Child Nutrition Act rules

About 50 celebrity chefs lobbied Capitol Hill on Tuesday to keep sometimes controversial school-lunch rules in the Child Nutrition Act, which is up for reauthorization in December.

Chefs in attendance included five-time James Beard Award winner and “Top Chef” judge Tom Colicchio, Emily Luchetti, “Top Chef All-Stars” winner Richard Blais, and D.C. chefs Victor Albisu, Spike Mendelsohn and Marjorie Meek-Bradley.

In a letter published Tuesday on TheHill.com, Colicchio and Luchetti wrote that it is “critical” for Congress to pass a strengthened reauthorization program, not one that hinders the progress made.

“In 2010 the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, made real improvements to what children are fed in schools for the first time in decades… Five years later, today more than 95 percent of schools across the country are meeting these updated standards and are serving meals with less salt, sugar and fat—and we are starting to see real change,” they wrote.

 

 

The chefs noted that although the changes haven’t been easy, now is not the time to “revert back to junk food and high-calorie meals,” and added that including whole grains and at least a half-cup of fruit or vegetables in every meal is “real progress.”

“The standards are there, they’re working and we should keep them in place,” Colicchio told the website Washington’s Top News.

The chefs’ #SaveSchoolLunch campaign is a departure from the School Nutrition Association’s recent requests of Congress: increased funding and flexibility under new nutrition standards for school meals and snacks.

 

 

Key requests include an increase in reimbursement levels, permitting 50 percent whole-grain-rich products and easing the mandates for reduced sodium.

Spokesman for the SNA, Diane Pratt-Heavner told FSD that it’s unfortunate no one acknowledges how much common ground there is on school nutrition issues, as everyone wants to ensure students are making healthy choices and that schools are providing healthy meals for them.

Yet, Pratt-Heavner noted, it’s the people in the cafeteria who know best if the standards are working or not.

"If the over prescriptive nature of the regulations is causing both financial and participation challenges for school districts, then Congress needs to provide schools more resources and flexibility to help make the standards successful,” she said.

The School Nutrition Association strongly supports offering students a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, and encourage students to take them, Pratt-Heavner said, adding that, however, good food is wasted when students are forced to take items they don’t want to. "Those resources would be better spent investing in further menu improvements, nutrition education initiatives and other efforts to promote consumption of healthy options.”

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