WASHINGTON -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack reaffirmed his
commitment Feb. 23 to revamping the school lunch program to make it easier
for schools to buy healthy fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy
products, one component of the Obama administration's proposal to
reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act this year.
"Reauthorization must substantially improve the nutritional quality of the
meals being served to our children and play a central role in the Let's Move!
campaign's effort to solve childhood obesity in a generation," Mr. Vilsack said
in prepared remarks delivered at the National Press Club, here.
While the U.S. Department of Agriculture is working to better align school
meals with the Dietary Guidelines, he acknowledged that the healthier diet
will increase costs for local schools.
"That is why I am calling on Congress to increase the reimbursement rate for
the National School Lunch Program, to help schools purchase the whole
grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat and fat-free dairy products that our
children need to grow strong any healthy," he said. "Let me be clear -- our
expectation is that school meals will improve as USDA issues new meal
requirements that emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat
dairy products. Any increases in the reimbursement rate must be conditioned
on the fact that the increases will pay for improved quality and improved
nutrition, not just the status quo," he said.
Mr. Vilsack called on Congress to include new equipment funding so that
updated school kitchens can provide meals that meet the Dietary Guidelines
and offer fresh fruits and vegetables, and for the new Child Nutrition Act to
strengthen the link between local farmers and school cafeterias.
The United Fresh Produce Association was pleased with the message Mr.
"Secretary Vilsack mentioned fruits and vegetables several times in his
remarks at the National Press Club; it's clear our industry has an important
role in the Obama administration's vision for meaningful improvements in
our nation's school nutrition policy," said Ray Gilmer, vice president of
communications for United Fresh Produce Association.
"We feel strongly that United's Salad Bar in Every School initiative can be a
valuable strategy in improving dietary behavior of millions of students and
helping the administration reach its goals of fighting obesity and improving
the health of young people across the nation," Mr. Gilmer added.