Obama Expected to Sign Child Nutrition Bill

December 13, 2010 - 6:14 AM

Barack and Michelle Obama

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrive at Sidwell Friends School in Bethesda, Md., on Friday, Dec. 10, 2010. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Washington (AP) - Legislation to provide more lunches and dinners to school children and make the meals healthier is expected to become law on Monday.

President Barack Obama, accompanied by his wife Michelle, is scheduled to sign the bill at a District of Columbia elementary school.

The $4.5 billion measure would expand free school meals for the needy and give the government the power to decide what kinds of foods may be sold in vending machines, lunch lines and fundraisers during school hours.

The legislation increases the federal reimbursement for free school lunches by 6 cents a meal at a time many school officials say they can't afford to provide the meals. The new funds also will allow 20 million additional after-school meals to be served annually in all 50 states. Most states now only provide money for after-school snacks.

Supporters say the law is needed to stem rising health care costs due to obesity in school-age children, and to feed hungry children in tough economic times. But some Republicans said the bill is too expensive and an example of government overreach.

The new nutrition standards would be written by the Agriculture Department, which would decide which kinds of foods may be sold and what ingredients can be used on school lunch lines and in vending machines.

The new standards would likely keep popular foods like hamburgers and pizza in school cafeterias but make them healthier, using leaner meat or whole wheat crust, for example. Vending machines could be stocked with less candy and fewer high-calorie drinks.

Bake sales and other school-sponsored fundraisers that sell unhealthy foods could be limited. The Agriculture Department would determine how often such events may be held. Public health advocates pushed for the language, saying they are concerned about daily or weekly fundraisers that allow children to substitute junk food for a healthier meal.

The bill would increase eligibility and accessibility for school lunches by using Medicaid and census data.