Durbin Leads Effort to Improve School Meals

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) today introduced legislation to fund a competitive program that would bring together nutritional and academic experts, members of the community and local schools to produce innovative ideas to improve food quality, student choices in food and healthy school environments.  Earlier today, Durbin met with Chef Rachel Ray to discuss reauthorization of child nutrition programs and her effort to help children develop healthy relationships with food.

“Schools face two major challenges: how to encourage students to choose fruits and vegetables over the usual pizza and nachos and then how to provide and pay for that healthier option,” said Durbin.  “Some schools in Illinois have already shown that even with limited resources they can make real improvements in the quality of their school meals. I want to build on these efforts with legislation that would help communities tap into local resources and expertise to make systemic changes in the cafeteria and the classroom.  I commend well-known advocates, like Rachael Ray, for using their popularity and first-hand knowledge to educate America’s children and families on the benefits of healthier food and a healthier lifestyle.”

Durbin’s legislation – the Healthy Schools Partnerships Act of 2010 – would create a competitive grant program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow public schools to explore innovative, sustainable programs that improve the nutritional profile of school meals.  The bill would authorize $2 million per year for 5 years to fund collaborations of academic experts, dieticians and nutrition professionals, community partners and local schools to implement and evaluate innovative models to improve food quality, student choices in food, and healthy school environments.  This could include starting programs to improve the nutritional content of school meals; providing more nutrition education; changing school policies to promote greater access to healthier foods and physical activity; or training teachers, school administrators and nurses.  

Durbin and Ray discussed efforts in the Senate to increase the amount of funding available for school meals and to ensure sound nutritional offerings for students.  The Senate Agriculture Committee recently approved legislation that would reauthorize the school meal program.  It provides an additional $4.5 billion in new funding for the program over the next 10 years – including an additional $3.2 billion to promote health and reduce childhood obesity.   Durbin supports President Obama’s call for the reauthorization to include an extra $1 billion per year.  In 2010 alone, the USDA expects to spend $10.2 billion on the school meal program which serves 31 million children across the country every day – 1.1 million students in over 4,000 Illinois schools.

Ray started a foundation in 2006 called “Yum-o!” (a phrase she often uses on her TV show) to teach kids to cook, feed hungry kids, fund cooking education and to provide scholarships.  Ray is a television star, cookbook author, and magazine founder and director.  As the food buyer and chef for a grocery store, she created a series of cooking classes to teach “30 minute meals.”  This concept exploded in popularity, and she was signed to a local new station and then the Food Network for a cooking show.  In 2005, she launched a magazine called “Every Day with Rachael Ray” and in 2006 started her own daily daytime talk show.