National Consumers League

DC schools nutrition bill aims high


By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director This week, the District of Columbia will likely enact the toughest, most directive legislation among the 50 states  regulating school nutrition and physical education standards. The bill will restrict calories on breakfast and lunch, limit the fat and sodium in the foods served to kids, and only non-fat or low-fat low sugar milks will be served. Lunches and breakfasts will be available for free to kids in need across the city, and a different fruit or vegetable – to give kids variety – will be served each day. Buying local produce will be emphasized. This bill is exciting and even (dare I say it) radical, but how will DC pay for this sea change in school lunch and breakfast menus and greater access to free meals? Councilmember Mary Cheh – the bill’s sponsor – is proposing a penny-per-ounce tax on soda, which the spokeswoman for the DC Beverage Association is calling “nothing short of a money grab from working families and citizens of the District of Columbia.” But the beverage association better brace itself, because the bill appears to have the support of the majority of DC’s City Council and is likely to pass in some form. This bill also requires double the recess time built into the curriculum day for DC school students. Councilmember Cheh’s bill is no doubt inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to get kids eating healthier and getting out from behind their Game Boy’s and Nintendos and out on the playground kicking a ball or playing hopscotch. I also credit my friend Ed Bruske, whose column in the Washington Post a few months ago describing the DC School lunch program, the contents of the food, and how kids respond to it provided a look into the DC school lunch program -- and it wasn’t pretty.