Rachael Ray is famous for her perky personality and 30-minute meals on Food Network. But the issue of childhood hunger brought her to Capitol Hill today, and the affable TV talk-show host was optimistic but serious as she stood outside the Capitol to promote a new bill that requires schools to serve healthier foods.
Leaders of the House Education and Labor Committee invited Ray to D.C., where she spoke at a press conference to introduce the “Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act,” a bill to reauthorize the 1965 Child Nutrition Act. That law does not include the school lunch program but controls almost all other foods students eat at school and after-school programs.
“I really think that teaching a child good nutrition and the basics of cooking gives them the skills they need for self esteem and security for the rest of their lives,” Ray said. “Just being able to eat a nutritious meal really improves the quality of your life.”
Ray went on to say that good nutrition does more than keeping students focused in class, instilling healthy habits at an early age helps cut health-care costs and helps them learn to choose healthier options, particularly if they are short on money.
Like the Senate bill put forth by Sen. Blanch Lincoln, the House initiative would give more money for meals served in the summer and before and after school and expand eligibility for children enrolled in the school lunch and breakfast programs. The 253-page bill would eliminate paperwork and create school-community partnerships and expand school gardenswho could possibly argue there?
Of course, one prickly point for some board members is the fact that it imposes new standards on food sold in schools and new food safety requirements and other measures that could be viewed as interference in local control, particularly for districts that are already creating innovative programs. We know that Congress needs to support those programs and support local districts in efforts to reduce costs and increase the quality of this vitally important duty. Childhood hunger is a serious problem and school leaders must be partners in tackling this issue.
Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor