The law, signed by President Barack Obama in 2010, allocates federal funds for child nutrition programs and free lunches at schools across the country, but requires that the lunches have at least half a serving of fruits or vegetables to be eligible for the reimbursement.
At the press conference this week, Gillibrand pushed for a discussion on the standards of foods offered to children as part of the program, as well.
“Is pizza a vegetable?” Gillibrand asked the children in attendance. “Is ketchup a vegetable? You need to be heard in Washington, where they have been counting pizza and ketchup as vegetables for far too long.”
Gillibrand explained that all the standards that ensure children eat fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains will be at risk.
“If we let that happen, our kids will lose out on getting nutrition, and the fruits and vegetable growers in New York State will lose a large portion of their market,” Gillibrand said.
She also used the press conference to introduce legislation that would give more children access to healthy summer meals by expanding the USDA Summer Food Service Program.
“No child should have to go without a healthy meal,” Gillibrand said.
She reported that nationwide, only 16 percent of children receive summer meals. The bill would expand the communities that are eligible, reduce red-tape for non-profits that want to support free meals, increase access in rural areas by providing transit and, in some cases, add free dinners for kids and their parents.
“My goal is to fight for these essential programs,” said Gillibrand, who was supported by an array of federal, state and local officials.
“As a mother of two young boys who attend public school in Queens and as founder and co-chair of the Congressional Kids Safety Caucus, I know first-hand how important the fight for accessible and proper nutrition is,” said Congresswoman Grace Meng. “As lawmakers, it is our duty to ensure that these programs are renewed and enhanced so that children do not suffer at the hands of bureaucratic barriers.
In New York City, children have ample access to free meals over the summer at over 1,000 locations, but many parents aren’t aware of the program. You can find a location near you online or by calling 311.
“Here in NYC over the summer, every child has access to free breakfast and lunch,” Deputy Mayor Richard Buery said. “It doesn't matter how much money you earn, it doesn’t even matter if you live in the city, it doesn’t matter if you’re a public school student.”
Another new initiative is free lunch for all middle school students.
“No more the stigma of 'are you a free lunch kid or are you a reduced lunch kid?'” Buery said. “Every middle schooler, every child can go and get a healthy, free, nutritious lunch. That is a game-changer for New York City students.”
The city also plans on phasing in breakfast after the opening bell for elementary school students, allowing them to eat in the classroom.
“Kids aren't going to be able to focus, they’re not going to be able to pay attention if they’re coming into school on an empty stomach,” Buery said.