Update from Congressman Pete Gallego

Taking Care of Our Children – Through Nutrition – a National Priority

No child should attend school hungry or malnourished. Nor should our children learn poor eating habits in our school systems. With child obesity rates in Texas nearly doubling to 16.8 percent since 2009, we should exercise caution with the foods and habits we introduce in schools. Using common sense in providing access to healthy food options is smart. 

I recently voted for the 2014 Farm Bill – ensuring four million people don’t lose SNAP benefits and protecting access to nutritious food for many members of our community. Our children belong in the classroom learning, not hungry or looking for food.
 
 Next up is the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act. I keep in mind the words of Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture, “The health of our nation – of our economy, our national security, and our communities – depends on the health of our children.” We must act decisively to ensure that no child goes hungry, that all children have access to healthy foods, and that we provide our children the tools to eat healthy.
 
Child nutrition programs are vital to the success of our nation.  Having said that, we must not leave our common sense at the door as we consider various issues.  For example, a major sticking point involves definitions. What qualifies as a vegetable? The pizza example is often used as a prime case in point. If the tomato sauce in pizza meets nutritional requirements as a vegetable, can pizza fill the daily vegetable requirement? And if so, at what point is the benefit of the vegetable serving offset by the poor nutritional value of pizza?

Recently, young kids in the Lytle Independent School District wrote to me about their school lunches. They believed that the food they were being served no longer tasted as good as before.  My Facebook posting on the issue brought a myriad of comments.

Should certain items be mandatory per meal? Does making an item mandatory result in higher or lower consumption? Currently, a child participating in a school sponsored lunch program must select a piece of fruit as part of their meal. Fruits are an excellent source of nourishment. They are also great snacks between meals, but is mandating them an effective way to get youth to eat fruits?

 “Competitive foods” is another area of concern. Competitive foods are foods and beverages that compete with the school’s National School Lunch Program (NSLP), School Breakfast Program, and Afterschool Care Program. This is not limited to vending machines, but includes events such as bake sales. While the goal is commendable, I find it abhorrent that Congress would attempt to limit bake sales.

However, I am all on board with continuing tiered child nutrition programs by age. Starting when our children are young, we should instill the values of healthy eating. 

Common sense indicates that we should also teach that it’s Okay to enjoy some not-so-healthy foods in moderation. A well thought out child nutrition program can provide the knowledge and skills for healthy eating through adulthood; but it shouldn’t leave common sense behind.

 I will work hard, in a bi-partisan manner, to pass a Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act that is reasonable and responsible. We need a bill that addresses the ballooning problem of childhood obesity; a bill that does not allow a candy bar to become a vegetable because we sprinkle it with broccoli; and a bill that allows for creative ways to provide our children with their daily vegetable servings. We are in a position to craft legislation that will continue to show children there are healthy foods that can be delicious and that delicious foods that aren’t so healthy should be eaten only in moderation.

Healthy eating doesn’t have to be hard.  And, it should still be Okay to eat ice cream every once in a while.

U.S. Representative Pete Gallego represents the 23rd Congressional District of Texas, which includes all or parts of 29 counties in southwest Texas, stretching from San Antonio to El Paso. He serves on the House Armed Services and House Agriculture Committees.