Legislation to improve nutrition, increase access to school meals advances
NEW JERSEY – In an effort to increase access to healthy meals the Senate Education Committee last week unanimously advanced legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Ruiz to increase enrollment in the free school meals program and raise the nutrition standards districts are following.
“For many children around the state, the meals they receive in school may be their only reliable source of food each day. This package aims to improve the nutritional quality of food schools serve and ensure as many families as possible are applying,” said Ruiz (D-Essex). “As we continue to strive towards achieving universal free school meals our hope for now is to reach every eligible student and provide them with fresh, nourishing meals each day.”
The first bill, S-530, would require hard copies of school meal program information be provided to parents at the start of the school year, along with an application. The information provided would include a notice that an application for the free school lunch and breakfast programs may be submitted at any time during the year and must be resubmitted annually.
Under the bill, parents would be required to either return the completed application or sign a card provided by the district stating they are aware of the program and are not interested in participating.
A second bill, S-531, sponsored by Senator Ruiz and Senator Joe Vitale, would require public schools to comply with the nutrition standards for the National School Lunch Program and federal School Breakfast Program adopted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2012, or any more stringent standards.
“The lunchroom offers a valuable opportunity to teach students about the importance of healthy eating and what a balanced meal looks like. Unfortunately, despite the federal government implementing new nutritional standards over a decade ago, we have yet to achieve universal adoption of the standards statewide,” said Vitale (D-Middlesex). “It’s important everyone is on the same page, and that going forward we’re adopting improved nutrition standards in a timely manner.”
A third bill, S-1222, sponsored by Senator Ruiz and Senator Vin Gopal, would require the Department of Agriculture to develop and make available an internet-based school meal application.
“As we work to increase enrollment in our free school meals programs, it’s important we’re making it as easy as possible for parents to apply,” said Gopal (D-Monmouth). “Ideally we would like anyone eligible to submit their application at the very start of the school year, when paper forms are sent home, but often that is not the case. Having an online application available will make it easier for parents to sign up when it is convenient to them.”