How Will the Nutrition Bill Change School Lunches?

President Obama has signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 into law, a major victory in First Lady Michelle Obama’s crusade against child obesity and hunger. The bill increases federal funding for school lunches – by about six cents per meal – for the first time in more than three decades.

The child nutrition legislation, which was approved unanimously in the Senate in August and recently passed the House by a vote of 264 to 157, gives the Secretary of Agriculture the power to set standards for foods sold in schools, including items in “a la carte” lines and vending machines. The legislation also combats child hunger by making more than 100,000 children on Medicaid eligible for free lunches.

A controversial provision in the law regulates the price of lunches served to children from families that earn more than 185 percent of the poverty level. The Congressional Budget Office has said this provision will require some schools to raise their meal prices.

Margo Wootan, Director of Nutrition Policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says that while definitive nutrition standards are yet to be determined by the Department of Agriculture, the bill represents a major change for the quality of food in the nation’s schools.

“This child nutrition bill gets a lot of junk food out of schools and a lot of healthier food into schools,” said Wootan. “It is a historic step toward reducing childhood obesity and helping parents feed their children better.”

Students from schools across the country, including some participants in the NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs program, submitted photos of their school lunches. Wootan analyzed many of them based on what she believes the new nutrition standards will mandate; her thoughts appear in the photo captions below.