By Tom Vilsack
ST. PAUL (August 19, 2011) — Right now, parents are making sure their children are ready to head back to school after the summer. Their checklist to get ready might include new shoes or a new backpack — paper, pens and other supplies.
At USDA, we are working to add another item to the list: nutritious meals and healthy lifestyles for all of America’s children.
If we want to build a strong economy and win the future, then we also need to win the race to educate our kids. And that means making sure that the 32 million kids who eat school lunches every day are fueled by the healthiest, most nutritious food we can provide.
Last year, at the urging of President Obama, Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to make the most important changes to school lunches and breakfasts in over 30 years. Since then, USDA has worked to implement important reforms to help schools feed more nutritious meals to their students – and receive a bit more money to do it.
That means more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products on our lunch tables, and less fat, sugar and sodium.
We are working with schools to help them get creative about offering the tastiest, most appealing meals. And we are making it easier for parents to enroll their kids to get the meals they need.
At the same time, we are working to improve the health of the whole-school environment by helping schools update their ‘wellness policies’ to encourage kids to stay active and learn good eating habits that will last a lifetime. We are setting standards to provide more healthy choices in the a la carte line and vending machines.
And we have helped hundreds of schools embrace these changes – as well as changes in their cafeterias — by participating in the in Healthier US School Challenge. This program, a key component of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative to end childhood obesity within a generation, is a gold standard that all our schools should try and meet.
As they look towards the first day of class, parents should know that USDA is investing in their child’s future. The improvements we are making to school nutrition mean they’ll be getting the nutritious food they deserve and need to grow, learn and succeed.
Tom Vilsack is the United States Secretary of Agriculture.