Landmark School Meal Law Taps Food Service Workers

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by Felix Perez

When President Obama signed the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act into law December 13 at Harriet Tubman Elementary School in Washington, D.C., he was joined by Cabinet secretaries, educators, school administrators and other advocates for children and students who labored non-stop for several months to see the day come to fruition.

Not present at the signing ceremony, but essential to providing warm, healthy meals to the nation’s students, were the more than 360,000 persons who plan, prepare and serve school meals.

These individuals play a key role in making sure students thrive academically and physically.  They witness every day the heavy toll the recession has taken on America’s children: more than 20 percent of children live in poverty, and more than half of all people who rely on food stamps are children.

Hungry, malnourished children do not learn as well as their peers.  In contrast, students who are well-nourished have fewer behavioral and attendance problems, and perform better on tests.

The bipartisan Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act expands by 115,000 each year the number of children enrolled in the school meals program.  It improves the nutritional value and quality of school breakfasts, lunches and other school foods.  The law sets new food safety guidelines and, for the first time, establishes nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools.

To ensure schools meet the new standards, the landmark law includes training opportunities and professional standards for all Education Support Professionals who work in food services  the dietitians, dietary technicians, cooks, food preparation workers, and cashiers. The professional development opportunities for these frontline school employees, a first, were proposed early this year by the National Education Association at a White House meeting with First Lady Michelle Obama and other children and education advocacy group leaders.

NEA’s proposal was accompanied by continually reaching out to the Obama administration, participating in coalitions and, most important, the letters, e-mails, phone calls and visits to Congress from NEA members and others who believe school meals are a vital part of the America’s safety net for children.

Education Support Professionals care deeply about the health and well-being of our children and are committed to ensuring they have the nutrition they need to learn, grow and succeed.  The Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act helps provide food service workers the tools and training necessary to strengthen their roles as co-partners  along with parents and teachers  in our children’s education.

  • To read statements by elected officials and stakeholders on the USDA website, please click here.

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