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School Nutrition Dietitian Brianna Dumas is a big fan of farm to school programs in Georgia.

By Brianna Dumas

I’m not sure about you, but as a child growing up in public school, the last thing I would have ever seen on our lunch line was chili lime hummus.

But that’s what PreK-2nd grade students at Waynesboro Primary School unanimously chose to add to our cafeteria menu next year, following a taste test of several options.

Let’s take a look at many of the school meals across the nation today: hummus, guacamole, entrée salads, fruit and cheese platters, whole grain vegetable pizza, bean burgers, fruit smoothies, parfaits, and oatmeal grace our lines; fresh fruit reigns over canned, processed options; farmers are selling directly to schools; and most of all, students in schools across the country are offered meals that fit the nutritional requirements for their age.

That’s a drastic change from French fries, pizza, and donut-laden fundraisers, as well as a massive improvement for children who depend upon school meals for a majority of their nutritional needs. While school meals have continuously received negative markup in the media, as a School Nutrition Dietitian, I can personally attest to witnessing the positive changes every day in the public school system.

Unfortunately, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce is undermining these tremendous efforts – potentially devastating news for the chili lime hummus and our young students.

If you have been on social media at all in the past 2-ish weeks, you may have seen something about H.R 5003 otherwise known as one of the following: #CNR2016;
—or my favorite that was proposed, and sadly declined, in the official House hearing: “The Hunger Games.”

This is the reauthorization bill that follows up The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010—the Federal Law that was signed in 2010 for stricter nutrition standards in school meals. In 2014, these standards went into full effect: stricter nutrition guidelines filled our menus; strengthened school wellness policies; and all states were now eligible to apply for free meals through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP).  CEP is an incredibly powerful tool for both rural and urban schools to reduce administrative red tape, increase school meal participation rates, decrease stigma, and increases federal reimbursement.

With an astounding 18,000+ schools (8.5 million total students) participating in CEP and another 11,647 eligible to participate, it goes without saying that CEP is doing just what it intended: permitting eligible schools to provide meal service to all students at no charge, regardless of economic status, while reducing burden at the household and local level.

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Is your school district participating in Farm to School programs? Apply for a Golden Radish Award by June 30! Click the image above for details.

H.R. 5003, introduced by Representative Rokita (IN), will undo this progress by dramatically raising the eligibility requirements for participating in CEP.

What does that mean for Georgia? 180,255 students that currently participate in CEP could no longer be eligible for this process; teachers and administrators would once again feel the burden of administering free and reduced applications. 

Additionally, the bill seeks to change the funding process from federal reimbursement to block grants. While many schools appreciate the concept of locally controlled budgets, block grants traditionally run out of funding too early, and the funds are frequently raided by other departments.

Everything we have worked so hard to implement in schools; fresh fruit and veggies, whole grains, lean protein, less sugar, and less salt… these may be a thing of the past as we welcome back fried foods across the country.

As of early last week, just one day after the proposed bill hit the general public’s knowledge bank, over 750 organizations signed a letter speaking out against this bill. Childhood hunger and access to nutritious foods should not be a bipartisan issue; but a common goal we work together on.

I, along with many others in this country, understand that the budget is something we need to work on. But let’s find a solution elsewhere, and leave innocent children out of it.

Want to learn about the Childhood Nutrition Act? Visit the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Kids Safe and Healthful Foods Project

Want to take action to prevent The Hunger Games Bill from becoming a reality? Contact your local representative today, and flood social media with your thoughts. Use the hashtags #CNR2016 #DearRepresentativeRokita #RealSchoolFood to take part in the conversation.

Brianna Dumas graduated from Georgia Southern with BS in Nutrition and Food Science and completed her dietetic internship at AADI in June 2014. After graduating, Brianna began working with Donna Martin for the Burke County Board of Education as a Wellness and Farm to School RDN. She has helped Donna grow their Farm to School program to encompass local meals in the lunchroom, in the classroom, started a district farmers market and even warranted a visit from First Lady, Michelle Obama on her US Garden Tour.

 

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