WASHINGTON – On July 27, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor advanced the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act (H.R. 8450) with a vote of 27-19. This comprehensive reauthorization of federal child nutrition programs includes vital provisions to expand plant-based school meals and increase equity by removing barriers that prevent children from accessing nondairy milk. The Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act now advances for further consideration by the House of Representatives.
The bill includes a new pilot grant program (“Section 604. Plant-Based Foods in Schools”) modeled after legislation sponsored by Reps. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) and Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), the Healthy Future Students and Earth Pilot Program Act, which would provide healthy, climate-friendly plant-based meals in our nation’s public schools. Other provisions (“Section 1001. Accommodating Dietary Requirements”) would give parents more control over their child’s diet and allow schools to better accommodate students who are unable to process lactose or cannot consume dairy. Because specific populations of color have high levels of lactose intolerance, this provision was championed by leaders and members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Both of these provisions included in the “Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act” will help schools overcome several of the barriers to serving healthy, culturally appropriate, and climate-friendly lunches.
A broad coalition of organizations and students across the country joined lawmakers in praise of the provisions’ advancement.
“Every child deserves healthy, nutritious, and sustainable meals that respect their choice,” said Representative Nydia Velázquez. “By including a pilot program for plant-based school food modeled after my bill, the Healthy Future Students and Earth Act, the Education and Labor Committee has made an investment in the health of our children and helped combat climate change. I’m proud to champion this program that would deliver food justice for all and build a greener, healthier future for our kids.”
“At the same time as we invest urgently in the transition to renewable energy, we must build sustainable food systems at every level of our society — and our public education system can lead the way,” said Representative Jamaal Bowman. “As usual, our young people understand this best: students and their families have been clamoring for healthy, plant-based, and culturally appropriate meal options at school. I am proud that the Committee on Education and Labor has included in Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization my and Rep. Velázquez’s bill to advance food justice in marginalized communities, support local farmers of color, and nourish all Americans while fighting the climate crisis.”
“In the midst of supply chain and labor challenges, worsening climate change and ongoing child hunger, the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act meets the moment,” said Chloë Waterman, senior program manager at Friends of the Earth. “This visionary legislation recognizes the importance of investing in the health of our children and the planet they will inherit. We applaud Chairman Scott and the Education and Labor Committee for advancing this bill.”
“The Physicians Committee applauds the inclusion of provisions in the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act that will provide more nutritious meal options for our nation’s school children,” said Neal Barnard, MD, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. “By expanding access to plant-based meals and removing barriers that prevent students from accessing nondairy milk, this legislation will not only provide for healthier school meals, but it will also expand equity and put parents more in control of their children’s diet.”
“Youth Climate Save members are very happy about the news of the inclusion of provisions in the Healthy Meals, Healthy Kids Act because it shows our elected officials do truly care about the health of both the youth and the planet,” said Genesis Butler, founder of Youth Climate Save. “We thank the committee for advancing this to the House floor because youth around the country want to be able to access nondairy milk and plant-based foods at schools, which is something that is currently not an option. There is growing demand for plant-based foods and nondairy milk by youth and our parents because we care about our health and our future on this planet.”
“It’s obscene that so many of our nation’s children are hungry and facing nutrition insecurity,” said Eloísa Trinidad, Executive Director of Chilis on Wheels. “As an organization providing direct food relief, every day we see the faces of hungry children and the desperation of their caregivers, but we can’t solve this issue without policy change. We applaud the committee for listening to those of us working directly with impacted communities and for seeking justice for these communities by advancing provisions that will provide more nutritious meal options.”