Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack marked National School Breakfast Week (March 5-9) by emphasizing the administration's commitment to provide schoolchildren with healthy, well-balanced meals to prepare them for a productive school day.
"Breakfast is the most important meal of the day because it helps keep kids alert and focused on learning," said Vilsack. "Thanks to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, we will be able to connect more eligible children with our school food programs and greatly improve the quality of meals served in schools."
The administration's commitment to increase participation in the School Breakfast Program has drawn national attention to the effort to continuously improve the health and nutrition of America's schoolchildren. To start each school day, the program gives more than 12 million children of all economic backgrounds a well-balanced, healthy meal consistent with the latest science and dietary guidelines.
"Participation in the School Breakfast Program is an important vehicle to meet the nutrition needs of children," said Kevin Concannon, USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services. "Since President Obama signed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act into law, USDA has worked with schools on innovative delivery strategies to meet the requirements for promoting the School Breakfast Program."
In January, USDA unveiled new standards for school meals that will result in healthier meals for nearly 32 million kids that participate in school meal programs every school day. USDA built the new rule around recommendations from a panel of experts convened by the Institute of Medicine —a gold standard for evidence-based health analysis. The standards were also updated with key changes from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans – the Federal government's benchmark for nutrition – and aimed to foster the kind of healthy changes at school that many parents are already trying to encourage at home, such as making sure that kids are offered both fruits and vegetables each day, more whole grains, and portion sizes and calorie counts designed to maintain a healthy weight.
The new standards are just one of five major components of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, now implemented or under development, that will work together to reform school nutrition. In addition to the updated meal standards, unprecedented improvements to come include:
- The ability to take nutrition standards beyond the lunchline for the first time ever, foods and beverages sold in vending machines and other venues on school campuses will also contribute to a healthy diet;
- Increased funding for schools – an additional 6 cents a meal is the first real increase in 30 years – tied to strong performance in serving improved meals;
- Common-sense pricing standards for schools to ensure that revenues from non-Federal sources keep pace with the Federal commitment to healthy school meals and properly align with costs; and
- Training and technical assistance to help schools achieve and monitor compliance.