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August 9, 2012
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As schools resume, federal Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program up for debate

By Kentucky Health News

With students and teachers returning, school food-service directors are working to implement the new federal school lunch regulations that take effect this year. This would be a good story for local news media, since it affects almost every student.

As school resumes, another school food program is up for debate. Congress is deciding whether frozen, canned and dried produce should be included in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. House Republicans say yes, to save money and make a wider range of options available year round. But the Senate is pushing to keep the program limited to fresh fruit and vegetables only. The argument — or food fight, as Dina ElBoghdady of The Washington Post calls it — has trade and other groups weighing in.

“If the goal is to expand and improve upon childhood nutrition, it doesn’t make sense to limit the kinds of fruit and vegetables that schools serve,” said Corey Henry, a spokesman for the American Frozen Food Institute. “Let the schools decide.” But Sandi Kaur, acting director of nutrition services at the California Department of Education, disagrees, saying “it’s the fresh that makes this program unique.”

More than 50,000 students in 125 Kentucky elementary schools benefit from the program, run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. To see which schools participate, click here. The program allows schools to distribute fresh fruit and vegetables as snacks to students and has “raised consumption in participating schools by a quarter-cup per day, or 15 percent,” ElBoghdady reports. “The increase did not contribute to weight gain, suggesting that the fruit and vegetables replaced other foods.” Last year, USDA spent $150 million to pay for the snacks for 3 million children.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new requirements to make school lunch a healthier meal for students includes these guidelines:

— Students will be given both fruit and vegetables every school day.

— More foods will be made with whole grains.

— Students will be offered only fat-free or low-fat milk.

— Calories will be limited by portion size, based on the age of children being served.

— There will be less saturated fat and trans-fats in the food served.

— The amount of sodium will decrease gradually over the next 10 years.

Kentucky Health News is a service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

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