Agriculture Deputy Secretary Merrigan Visits Oklahoma to Highlight Efforts to Improve School Meals and Health of Nation’s Children | USDA Newsroom
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Release No. 0261.10
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USDA Office of Communications (202) 720-4623

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AGRICULTURE DEPUTY SECRETARY MERRIGAN VISITS OKLAHOMA TO HIGHLIGHT EFFORTS TO IMPROVE SCHOOL MEALS AND HEALTH OF NATION'S CHILDREN

SHAWNEE, Okla., May 13, 2010 - Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan today discussed the Obama Administration's priorities for improving school meals and the health of children across the nation at Will Rogers Elementary School in Shawnee. Merrigan met with state officials, school food service directors, community leaders, and others involved in school nutrition. The group discussed current successful programs in the state and Merrigan emphasized the importance of renewing the Child Nutrition Act and said a strong reauthorization bill will reduce hunger and improve the health and nutrition of our nation's children. Will Rogers Elementary School has achieved Gold level status in USDA's HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC), a program that recognizes schools creating healthier school environments by providing healthier foods, nutrition education, and physical activity.

"The Obama Administration is committed to providing all of our children access to safe, nutritious, and well-balanced meals in schools so they have a greater opportunity to succeed and to reach their highest potential," Merrigan said. "Today's productive conversation reinforces our commitment to rapid passage of a strong reauthorization bill which will enhance our child nutrition programs."

Congress is currently considering legislation to bolster the Child Nutrition Act, which authorizes the National School Lunch, School Breakfast, and Summer Food Service Programs. These programs serve nearly 32 million children each school day and work in concert to form a national safety net against hunger. Improving the Child Nutrition Act is the legislative centerpiece of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! Campaign and highlighted in the White House report Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity Within a Generation released Tuesday, May 11. By passing strong reauthorization legislation, with the full $1 billion annual increase requested in President Obama's budget, the Administration hopes to reduce hunger, promote access, and improve the overall health and nutrition of children throughout the country. To learn more about the First Lady's Let's Move! campaign, visit www.LetsMove.gov In the coming year alone:

  • USDA will work with Congress to pass a child nutrition reauthorization bill that improves food in schools;
  • USDA will update the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and Food Pyramid to provide parents and caregivers with helpful information about nutrition,
  • USDA, Treasury, and HHS will work with Congress to bring grocery stores and other healthy food retailers to underserved areas by supporting more than $400 million in investments in a Healthy Food Financing Initiative;
  • Today, Merrigan outlined USDA's priorities for the Child Nutrition Act which include:
  • Improve nutrition standards. Establishing improved nutrition standards for school meals based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and taking additional steps to ensure compliance with these standards;
  • Increase access to meal programs. Providing tools to increase participation in the school nutrition programs, streamline applications, and eliminate gap periods;
  • Increase education about healthy eating. Providing parents and students better information about school nutrition and meal quality;
  • Establish standards for competitive foods sold in schools. Creating national baseline standards for all foods sold in elementary, middle, and high schools to ensure they contribute effectively to a healthy diet;
  • Serve more healthy food. Promoting increased consumption of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and low- and fat-free dairy products and providing additional financial support in the form of reimbursement rate increases for schools that enhance nutrition and quality;
  • Increase physical activity. Strengthening school wellness policy implementation and promoting physical activity in schools;
  • Train people who prepare school meals. Ensuring that child nutrition professionals have the skills to serve top-quality meals that are both healthful and appealing to their student customers;
  • Provide schools with better equipment. Helping schools with financial assistance to purchase equipment needed to produce healthy, attractive meals.
  • Enhance food safety. Expanding the current requirements of the food safety program to all facilities where food is stored, prepared and served.
  • Strengthen the link between local farmers and school cafeterias. Supporting farm-to-school and school-to-farm programs will increase the amount of produce available to cafeterias and help to support local farmers by establishing regular, institutional buyers.

USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) oversees the administration of 15 nutrition assistance programs including the child nutrition programs that touch the lives of one in four Americans over the course of a year. These programs work in concert to form a national safety net against hunger. Visit www.fns.usda.gov for information about FNS and nutrition assistance program.

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