(12/28/2010)
Healthier lunches for the nation's 40 million children is a step closer to becoming a reality, a bill now signed by President Obama.

The $4.5 billion bill will provide money to feed more lunches and dinners to children at school, plus improve the nutritional value of those meals during the next 10 years.

In WV's 55-counties about 56% of school kids are eligible for free or deduced meals.

In Calhoun County, it is about 70%.

The federal school nutrition program will distribute about $2 million among the state schools' food programs.

The law will also make it easier for West Virginia's neediest children to get free meals breakfast, lunch and, in some cases, dinner.

President Barack Obama signed The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, or Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act, earlier this month.

Richard Goff, executive director of the state education department's Office of Child Nutrition, calls the bill "groundbreaking."

"It's kind of mind-boggling, all the provisions that are in there," he said. "It's unbelievable what it does for children in the United States and for children in West Virginia."

The bill reauthorization provides school systems with an additional six cents of federal money per meal if districts meet the new, stricter guidelines.

Schools are required to offer more fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy drink options.

Vending machine food and drink now must meet strict nutritional standards - they can't contain trans fats, or exceed certain sugar or sodium standards.

Though the money passes through the state education department, it all goes to county school systems.

In so many school systems, the meals children eat at school is the only meal they get all day.

The program is reportedly upgrading the nutritional value of meals, after various investigations have been critical of the content of food delivered in schools.

Last year, British chef Jamie Oliver introduced his "Food Revolution" program in a Huntington school, as part of his goal to bring healthier foods to kids.

Oliver's came to Huntington because it was deemed as one of the un-healthiest places in the USA.

While Oliver's visit was not well-received by local school officials, WV has passed new standards for school nutrition, becoming the first state in the nation to implement the Institute of Medicine's guidelines for food in schools.


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