March is recognized as National Nutrition Month. This is a time to focus attention on the importance of a balanced diet and healthy eating choices. As a co-chair of the Senate Hunger Caucus, I am committed to supporting and raising awareness of efforts that provide healthy meals, creating policies that fight hunger and advocating for programs that have proven to be successful.
I’ve seen how community involvement in Arkansas is fighting food insecurity. Efforts like the “Cooking Matters at the Store” initiative launched by the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance teaches families to compare prices, read food labels and buy fruits and vegetables on a budget. These skills seem basic, but they go a long way in helping families maximize precious resources. Grocery stores are also allowing SNAP beneficiaries to purchase locally grown produce at a discount, which promotes health and affordability at the same time.
State educators know how essential breakfast is to students’ progress, so they’re implementing programs to promote breakfast. They are also helping grow gardens where the food produced is used in school lunches.
Proper nutrition is crucial to our wellbeing. Creating opportunities to access healthy, nutritious food is also important to our state’s and the nation’s economic development.
The Department of Agriculture’s Child and Adult Care Food Program is a unique effort that uses public-private partnerships to meet the nutritional needs of vulnerable children and adults. It has become a critical tool in the fight against hunger. I was pleased to support this program and recognize the important role it plays in the health and wellness of those in Arkansas and throughout the country with a Senate resolution acknowledging its contribution.
Studies show that access to the Child and Adult Care Food Program can measurably and positively impact the cognitive, social, emotional and physical health and development of children, leading to more favorable outcomes such as decreased likelihood of being hospitalized, an increased likelihood of healthy weight gain and an increased likelihood of a more varied diet.
As a member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, I will continue to press for flexibility in the Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program, so children who rely on school meals when class is in session can access healthy, nutritious meals during the summer.
In Arkansas, more than fifty thousand children receive nutritious meals through this program. For many rural areas of the country, including communities in the Natural State, this one-size-fits-all approach fails the children most in need. More than 60 percent of Arkansas children rely on free or reduced-price meals during the school year. We need to modernize the program so that summer meal sites are available to children, no matter where they live.
It’s time that federal policy provides the flexibility necessary to reach students in their communities.
In order to break the cycle of food insecurity we must work together. Hunger knows no boundaries, but it is preventable and we have the tools to help fight it. We’ve made significant gains in Arkansas, across the country and throughout the world to improve nutrition for the most vulnerable in our society and I will continue to be a champion of efforts to improve access to healthy, nutritious foods.