USDA will wait on Congress to pass the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act next year before it makes improvements to the school lunch program. But the department is not waiting to sell the program. Chicken fajita strips, sliced ham and canned green beans are on the menu this week when USDA serves some lawmakers and congressional staffers a sampling of school food. The menu offers the same products the agency provides every day to public schools across the nation.
According to the department, the goal of this week's tasting is to show lawmakers the improvements the department has made in the nutritional quality and taste of the $1.2 billion dollars in school commodity foods and to win support to fund further improvements. USDA says, with one-third of American children overweight or obese, the USDA has been working to cut salt and fat and provide more fruits and vegetables.
The tasting is also an attempt to rehabilitate the reputation of the commodity foods program, which provides 15 to 20% of the food served in U.S. school cafeterias. Officially called USDA Foods, the program has long been perceived as a conflict of interest in the department's mission: to support American farmers and ranchers while overseeing nutrition programs for low-income families and schoolchildren. Some question if the program is a way to distribute meats, cheeses and other commodities that couldn't find a buyer on the open market.