OPINION

Opinion: Congress Wants To Undo Moms’ Hard Work On School Lunches

GLASTONBURY, ENGLAND - JUNE 20:  Festival caterers serve lunch at Goose Hall, the on-site staff canteen, at the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts site at Worthy Farm, in Pilton on June 20, 2013 in Glastonbury, England.  In a weeks time, the diary farm in Somerset will be playing host to one of the largest music festivals in the world and this year features headline acts Artic Monkeys, Mumford and Sons and the Rolling Stones. Tickets to the event which is now in its 43rd year sold out in minutes and that was before any of the headline acts had been confirmed. The festival, which started in 1970 when several hundred hippies paid 1 GBP to watch Marc Bolan, now attracts more than 175,000 people over five days.  (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

GLASTONBURY, ENGLAND - JUNE 20: Festival caterers serve lunch at Goose Hall, the on-site staff canteen, at the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts site at Worthy Farm, in Pilton on June 20, 2013 in Glastonbury, England. In a weeks time, the diary farm in Somerset will be playing host to one of the largest music festivals in the world and this year features headline acts Artic Monkeys, Mumford and Sons and the Rolling Stones. Tickets to the event which is now in its 43rd year sold out in minutes and that was before any of the headline acts had been confirmed. The festival, which started in 1970 when several hundred hippies paid 1 GBP to watch Marc Bolan, now attracts more than 175,000 people over five days. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)  (2013 Getty Images)

My son and I are researching and applying for high school scholarships. As part of the process, we've toured New York City private schools. It’s an amazing experience. They have small classes, huge libraries and gyms, and cafeterias, full of healthy options, that rival those of any public schools. I was in awe and so was my son.

The school my son loved, which will remain unnamed, is one of the top rated private schools in NYC. It also had a hefty price tag to go with it. However, the most glaring difference between this institution and public schools, was not just the price tag, it was the food that the children were served.

On the day we attended, the children were able to pick and choose from the following:

- Rice and turkey

- Rice and fish

- Fruit Bar

- Salad Bar

My son is important. Your sons and daughters are important. They deserve every opportunity that we can provide to lead a happy, healthy life.

- Migdalia Rivera

They also offered 2 percent milk, juice and water. As my son put it, he felt like he received a home cooked meal with the same healthy choices he receives at home.

Shouldn’t all children have the same opportunity?

As I watched the children eat, all I could think was, “Shouldn’t all children have the same opportunity to eat healthy foods?” In order for our children to reach their full potential, they must receive the nourishment that will fuel their bodies and their minds. This opportunity should not be afforded to a select few. A family’s income and their ability to pay for a private school should not determine the type of food a child is fed.  

Access to healthy meals in schools is particularly important for Latino children who have a higher obesity rate — 38.2  percent compared to 31.7 percent of all other children. They are yearning for nourishment and lacking healthy foods they need to achieve academic success.

Last year saw a breakthrough on this crucial issue brought about in large part because of moms who raised their voices for new school nutritional guidelines. Even when faced with backlash, they continued to enthusiastically support the new school meals, joining organizations like MomsRising.org to amplify their voice. 

The USDA heard and updated nutrition standards for school lunches for the first time in 15 years. Those updated nutrition standards ensured children, like yours and mine, would be served fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Not only that, the standards eliminated sugary snacks and foods high in sodium and fat. This was especially important for Latino schools where nutrition standards were weak. Our children were finally going to eat meals that would fuel their bodies and minds so that they could reach their highest potential.

Congress wants to undo our hard work.

It took us 15 YEARS! We’re on the road to changing the lives of 31 million children served through school lunch programs. We’re already meeting standards and serving healthy choices in 90 percent of the schools! Yet, some members of Congress want to block our efforts by allowing schools to opt out of the standards we worked so hard to attain.

I’m disgusted. And, you should be too.

My son is important. Your sons and daughters are important. They deserve every opportunity that we can provide to lead a happy, healthy life.

Ultimately, going backwards will not help anyone, least of all our children. And that is what Congress would be doing if they revert back to old standards and allow schools to:  

- Exclude fruits and vegetables from meals

- Serve meals high in sodium and low in whole grains

- Sell foods full of sugar, fat and salt in snacks and a la carte lines without having to meet evidence-based nutrition standards

- Delay or even prevent the implementation this fall of the Smart Snacks standards, which apply to foods and beverages sold outside of meal programs.

It’s time for Congress to take a stand for healthier children and support the USDA’s nutrition standards. In particular, the members of the House Appropriations Committee should avoid taking any action that would weaken these important, improved and long-overdue standards.

Migdalia Rivera is the Associate Campaign Director of MomsRising.org.

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