The National School Lunch Program was created in 1946 when leaders, alarmed by the poor health and malnutrition of World War II conscripts, thought a feeding program seemed a good way to raise healthier Americans and to provide another market for farmers for surplus commodity crops and foods.
In the early years politicians disagreed over whether feeding children was a federal responsibility; today some lawmakers believe the Agriculture Department has gone too far with diet guidelines.
Even so, bipartisan support for the school lunch, and eventually the school breakfast, program grew and remain strong today.
For some lawmakers, such as Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio, and Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., support for school meals is rooted in their childhoods.
Fudge, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus and a member of the House Agriculture Committee, attended elementary school in a wealthy school district in Ohio, although her family was not well-off. Her mother made arrangements with a bar near the school to provide a meal of hot dogs or hamburgers and fries for young Marcia each school day. Fudge credits her school’s physical education classes and recess for helping her avoid obesity.
That experience gave her an appreciation for structured school meals and the effort to make them nutritious.
“We have to find a way to make sure kids are not hungry,” Fudge told a conference of school cafeteria managers and operators. “If we don’t feed these kids in school, I don’t know what we will do as a nation.”
Cochran, a senior appropriator and ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, remembers his father’s efforts as a county school supervisor to collect local money to provide meals to poor kids.
“That was our first school lunch program. We’ve come a long way from that,” he said.
“I think there’s bipartisan support,” Cochran told a reporter earlier this month. “I think that’s one of the success stories of the programs, is that it has been administered wisely and they are accepted well across the country and provide a lot of benefits for a lot of students who otherwise would not be as healthy as they are.”