School cafeterias need flexibility to serve healthier meals

June 23, 2014 

Healthier School Lunches

FILE - This Sept. 11, 2012 file photo shows a healthy chicken salad school lunch, prepared under federal guidelines, sitting on display at the cafeteria at Draper Middle School in Rotterdam, N.Y. A House committee has endorsed a GOP plan to allow some schools to opt out of healthier school meal standards. The vote comes as First Lady Michelle Obama has launched a campaign in support of the standards, holding a White House meeting this week. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)

HANS PENNINK — AP

  • At issue: June 9 column by Susan G. Zepeda, "Keep school-lunch nutrition rules; U.S. House panel undermines efforts for healthful food"

The column by Susan Zepeda of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky makes some very important points about the need for proper nutrition for Kentucky students.

Proper nutrition is necessary for children's learning, health and overall well-being. No one believes that more than the 55,000-plus members of the School Nutrition Association. Of those, 1,900 are here in Kentucky working in school cafeterias to plan, prepare and serve healthy meals to our students.

SNA members support the majority of the new standards and we are not asking to remove the regulations. We are seeking additional flexibility to help students adjust to healthy changes in their school cafeterias in order to increase the number of children who benefit from healthy school meals, and to keep the programs financially stable.

We are asking Congress to allow school nutrition professionals the time to make the current phases work before moving to additional phases in sodium and whole grain requirements and to assess the impact of the Smart Snacks rule. Since the new standards were implemented in 2012, more than one million fewer students choose school lunch each day (17,000 per day in Kentucky), diminishing the intent of the Healthy Hunger-free Kids Act to promote healthier diets for students.

This is not destroying the intent of the HHFK Act, we are asking for time and support to make it work.

To imply that we are not concerned about the health of Kentucky's children and to discredit the association and its members as being in league with big industry is inaccurate and offensive. Meals and offerings undergo a vigorous nutritional analysis and are reviewed to make sure the HHFKA's requirements are met.

The products purchased from food companies named by Zepeda (PepsiCo, Coca Cola and Domino's Pizza) along with hundreds of others, are those that meet the current guidelines such as bottled water, 100 percent juices and whole-grain, low-fat, low-sodium pizza.

School nutrition professionals are on the front lines in the cafeterias implementing many of the healthy changes referenced; singling out companies in an effort to make it seem as if we are providing unhealthy choices is misleading to your readers.

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