WASHINGTON (AP) -- First lady Michelle Obama urged Congress to pass legislation that calls for higher nutritional standards for school meals.

In an op-ed essay appearing in Monday's edition of The Washington Post, Mrs. Obama wrote that the Child Nutrition Bill would require more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and less fat and salt in school lunches and breakfasts. And she said it would help eliminate junk food in vending machines.

"We owe it to the children who aren't reaching their potential because they're not getting the nutrition they need during the day," the first lady wrote.

In encouraging Congress to pass the bill, she wrote that "our prosperity depends on the health and vitality of the next generation."

The bill was approved by the House Education and Labor Committee last month, and a Senate committee has approved similar legislation.

Congressional passage would be just the first step. Many of the most difficult decisions, including what kinds of foods will be sold and what ingredients may be limited, will be left up to the Agriculture Department.

The legislation would also expand the number of low-income children eligible for free or reduced-cost meals, a step Democrats say would help President Barack Obama reach his goal of ending childhood hunger by 2015.

Copyright 2010 The AP.

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