Child nutrition workers have Obama on board

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 6, 2010

­With First Lady Michelle Obama on board, child nutrition program directors across the nation are hoping Congress will heed their requests for more federal dollars with which to feed hungry children.

Andalusia City Schools Child Nutrition Director Stephanie Dillard, who is the legislative chairperson for the Alabama School Nutrition Association, said this is a reauthorization year for child nutrition programs and President Barack Obama has proposed an additional $1 billion in funding to help eliminate childhood hunger.

At a recent conference of child nutrition directors held in Washington, D.C., the First Lady spoke about her Let’s Move initiative, which incorporates many of the causes for which the association has lobbied, including more money for school lunch equipment, streamlined paperwork to enroll students in school feeding programs and strict nutrition standards for foods sold outside the lunch line, as well as increased physical activities.

In an effort to help alleviate childhood hunger and help family pocketbooks, Dillard, who went to Washington lobbying for the ASNA, said child nutrition directors are asking Congress to do away with the reduced category in the national school lunch program and expand the free category to be consistent with WIC income eligibility guidelines.

“There is a problem nationwide with parents not being able to afford the 40 cents per day for lunch and 30 cents per day for breakfast,” Dillard said. “For some children, this is the only meal they get a day.”

Dillard said the goal is to help lessen the burden on families and ease their problems at home.

“This could help them be able to buy groceries at home.”

If the guidelines change, in a family of four with an annual household income of less than $40,793, the children would be eligible for free lunch.

Under current guidelines, free lunches are available in a family of four with a household income of less than $28,665.

Children in a four-member family with a household income of less than $40,793 qualify for reduced lunches.

“We are also asking that there be a single form for people to fill out for WIC, free lunch and food assistance,” Dillard said.

Dillard said there is a growing need for this change because of the ongoing and increasing number of unemployed parents.

Another key change child nutrition directors are asking for is an additional 35 cents in federal reimbursement for meals.

“We are doing this to help keep pace with rising costs and implementation of the dietary guidelines,” Dillard said. “It’s extremely difficult to produce meals at $2.68 and it has to include labor.”

Dillard said the federal reimbursement is $2.68 for free lunches, $2.27 for reduced lunches and 27 cents for full pay lunches. For breakfast, the reimbursement is $1.74 for free, $1.44 for reduced and 26 cents for full pay.

With the ever-changing guidelines to help fight childhood obesity, Dillard said they are serving whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables at the elementary school, but said the cost of these products is more than white bread or canned fruits and vegetables.

“An example is that whole wheat buns cost 6 cents per bun more than white buns,” she said. “That may not seem like a lot, but it adds up when you purchase hundreds.”

Dillard said the group is also asking for a set of nationwide guidelines for what is acceptable under the Dietary Guidelines for Americans on all reimbursed meals.

“Right now, there are different guidelines for different states,” she said.

“For example, a pizza that is acceptable in Alabama, may not be acceptable in Mississippi or Texas. We hope that by having more standards we will be able to offer more nutritious meals and also see price cuts.”

Child Nutrition Programs are also hoping to get an additional 10 cents per meal in USDA commodities for school breakfast.

“This would cover anything from fresh fruits to cheese,” Dillard said.