WASHINGTON — More children would eat lunches and dinners at school under legislation passed Thursday by the House and sent to the president, part of first lady Michelle Obama's campaign to end childhood hunger and fight childhood obesity.
The $4.5 billion bill approved by the House 264-157 would also try to cut down on greasy foods and extra calories by giving the government power to decide what kinds of foods may be sold in vending machines and lunch lines.
The bill could even limit frequent school bake sales and fundraisers that give kids extra chances to eat brownies and pizza.
The first lady said in a statement after the vote that she was thrilled about House passage. She called the bill "a groundbreaking piece of bipartisan legislation that will significantly improve the quality of meals that children receive at school."
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Republicans said the bill is too expensive and an example of government overreach. Even former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has weighed in, bringing cookies to a speech at a Pennsylvania school last month and calling efforts to limit junk food in schools a "nanny state run amok."
Democrats said the legislation is needed to stem rising health care costs due to expanding American waistlines and to feed hungry children in tough economic times.
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 crusts, 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 under the legislation, which only allows them if they are infrequent. The Agriculture Department would determine how often they could be held.
The bill would increase eligibility and accessibility for school lunches by using Medicaid and census data and provide money to serve more than 20 million additional after-school meals annually in all 50 states. Most states now only serve after-school snacks.
The legislation would increase the amount of money schools are reimbursed for free lunches by 6 cents a meal, a priority for schools that say they don't have enough money to serve the meals.