Philadelphia school officials are working to provide students with healthier food choices under new federal guidelines that went into effect earlier this year.

More than 150 Philadelphia schools, including district-run, charter and Archdiocesan, are providing free meals due to a new provision under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Previously, about two-thirds of Philadelphia’s public schools were providing free meals under a universal feeding program. But now, all students can receive free breakfast and lunch in school under a shift in federal policy. It also accompanies a general message that communities — which includes parents, administrators and teachers — should be encouraging children to maintain healthy eating habits and physical activity.

“CEP [Capacity Enhancement Program] is really a win-win for schools and students,” said Kathy Fisher, policy manager at the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger.

“With CEP, more students can participate in school meals, and better nutrition helps improve a student’s behavior, school performance and overall health,” she said in a statement.

The policy changed the methods used by school districts for reimbursement for the higher cost of more nutritious foods, labor and equipment associated with running the meal programs, the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger said.

Paper applications are no longer required under the new community eligibility provision and school districts can estimate need and seek reimbursement by providing data on the proportion of students who qualify for government subsidies.

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission was scheduled to consider a proposal this week to hire a vendor to provide fresh fruit and vegetables for the remainder of the 2014-15 academic year. The program is intended to increase students’ consumption and exposure to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Under the $330,000 contract, the company would be responsible for providing an education component through assemblies, morning announcement scripts, information on nutrition in servings of fruits and vegetables, and quizzes.

Contact Tribune staff writer Wilford Shamlin III at (215) 893-5742

or wshamlin@phillytrib.com

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