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Food fight: The struggle to feed the nation’s children in healthy ways

Schools say the healthy lunch mandate is too costly and kids won’t eat vegetables. The GOP and first lady square off

Ray’s thoughts on the school lunch program

Schools want the federal money that comes with school lunches, they just don't want the mandates. House Republicans want to free districts from the rules. Now the first lady has jumped into the political fray to defend school lunch standards.

As the end of the school year approaches for kids across the country, members of the House of Representatives' Appropriations Committee met to discuss the future of student meals. In the Senate version of the larger agriculture bill, schools are still required to provide healthy meals. In the House a debate roils: Should schools have the right to choose what food they serve?

Amendments to the House ag bill would change how the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act administers money. The act is a federal nutrition program set up in 2010 to fund the nation's school breakfast, lunch and summer service meals, along with the WIC program (for women, infants and children).

The guidelines require schools to serve more whole grains, vegetables and fruits in order to get reimbursed. In 2013, the law drew fire over its food group definitions and the idea that pizza, with its tomato sauce, could be considered a vegetable.

Some representatives fear that if schools were to choose cafeteria menus, food would be treated as the lowest common denominator.

What we find is that there is a raiding of the food budget because schools find themselves short and demand resources in other areas. So they take from that food budget to take care of other demands.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.

Meanwhile, those on the other side of the aisle say what schools do is not Washington's concern. Additionally, the mandate is hard for poorer schools to fund:

Let's have some faith in our fellow Americans and give them the flexibility to make some local decisions that they think are the appropriate thing to do. Guess what? If they make a mistake, I guarantee you, they will correct the mistake.

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla.

Down the street from Capitol Hill on Pennsylvania Avenue, the issue of overweight children is important to first lady Michelle Obama. Her signature program, Let's Move!, works to bring down childhood obesity rates through healthy school meals and exercise. She hosted a panel of school nutrition experts at the White House on Tuesday.

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“The last thing that we can afford to do right now is play politics with our kids’ health, especially when we’re finally starting to see some progress on this issue.”

The House is also looking to change the Summer Food Program for kids living in poverty. Every year when schools let out, millions of children go hungry because access to school-provided breakfasts and lunches suddenly ends. The House changes would include a 10 percent cut in funding and specifies which areas can offer the program, such as rural Appalachia, not urban areas where the need is just as great.

The following is a breakdown of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National School Lunch Program and childhood obesity statistics in America.

Have school districts struggled at all to implement the new school lunch standards?

What are the responses of schools in terms of the practicality and flexibility of the program?

Are kids not eating the new meals?

We consulted a panel of experts for the Inside Story.

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