Each Friday I compile a list that highlights five things you probably missed in the news that week and why you should care about them.
Here’s your list for the week of Dec. 5:
1. Child nutrition reauthorization officially on hold
There were some hopeful moments that child nutrition reauthorization could pass this year, but it’s officially been put on hold until the next session of Congress begins next year. While it’s a move that shouldn’t shock many, it’s still frustrating for child nutrition professionals who are awaiting guidance on areas like further sodium reductions. US Senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, released a statement saying he was “disappointed” that the negotiations for child nutrition have ended for the 114th session of Congress. Roberts said he was “proud of the commonsense reforms and the bipartisan strides we have made with the majority of the programs.” He went on to say that ultimately a compromise could not be found between the two houses of Congress and the two political parties. Some of the issues stopping the compromise include the proposed increase in CEP participation, block grants and so-called flexibilities surrounding sodium and whole grains.
2. Troubling comments from Speaker Ryan on child nutrition programs
In other school food news, here’s an old story, but something that will come into play next year. In 2014, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan gave a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the largest gathering of conservative leaders and activists, and said that free school lunches provided through the National School Lunch Program give kids “a full stomach—and an empty soul.” Ryan came to that conclusion after speaking with a cabinet member for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker who said she had met a child from a poor family and that he felt stigmatized by receiving a free school lunch instead of being able to bring a brown-paper bag lunch from home, because if he had the bagged lunch from home it showed he “had someone who cared for him.”
I’ll address the stigma first. Schools have done much to ensure that children no longer feel stigmatized by receiving a free meal. No child nutrition director wants any child to feel this way. Second, if a child comes from a low-income family, the family often doesn’t have the money to provide that coveted brown-paper bag lunch for the child. So is Speaker Ryan suggesting it’s better that a child doesn’t eat anything rather than receiving a free meal from the government?
Just what do these comments from 2014 foreshadow for child nutrition reauthorization now that discussions will not take place until the new Congress assembles? The likelihood that the bill is passed before President-elect Donald Trump takes office is also low. With Republicans in charge of both houses of Congress and the White House, what does that mean for the National School Lunch Program? Republicans, Ryan at the forefront, are known for being critical of so-called entitlement programs. If Ryan truly feels free school meals give kids “an empty soul,” that’s dangerous rhetoric for those who champion this program to feed our country’s youth.
3. Hospital testing customized diets for cancer patients
We all know how helpful it is to have good nutrition, particularly when recovering in a hospital. For cancer patients, appetite is often negatively affected by treatments like chemotherapy. At NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center in New York City, researchers are testing to see if customized diets will help patients eat better—and therefore recover quicker. The test will look into a patient’s reasons for not wanting to eat (nausea, difficulty swallowing or depression, for example). Then the patient will receive customized meals to help with the symptoms. The prepared meals will be delivered to patient homes from a company. For the trial, half the patients will receive the prepared meals and half will receive the traditional nutrition counseling the hospital currently provides.
4. Montreal hospital’s new food court criticized for unhealthy food
The Jewish General Hospital recently opened a new food court-style dining location to replace a decades-old cafeteria. But not everyone is happy about the change, particularly the food selections. According to the Montreal Gazette, some customers have noticed the promotion of burgers, fries and soda at the location, which the paper says were not highlighted in the older location. “We also eliminated trans fats in the cafeteria and we moved away from jumbo sizes, but in the food court they’re selling jumbo-sized smoked meat sandwiches for $12,” a person familiar with the dining operations told the paper about the differences in the cafeterias. The hospital did say not all stations in the new location have been opened, adding that “we’re paying very careful attention to the nutritional content of the food. It’s going to take another few weeks to get it all sorted out, but there is a plan.”
5. District seeking donations to send meals home over holidays
When school is out, many children do not have reliable access to healthy meals. One district in Arkansas is hoping to address that during the winter break by sending home breakfast boxes with students. The district is asking for donations to fund the boxes. For $15, one child will receive 10 breakfasts that are similar to what they would receive in school, including fresh fruit and shelf-stable milk. This is the first time the district has done the breakfast boxes.