By Arnold Ahlert
First Lady Michelle Obama gives us the answer.
On Tuesday, First Lady Michelle Obama took on House Republicans, criticizing their attempt to roll back the current guidelines for school lunches. “It’s unacceptable to me, not just as first lady but also as a mother,” she declared during a White House meeting with school nutrition officials. “The last thing we can afford to do right now is play politics with our kids’ health. Now is not the time to roll back everything we have worked for.”
The current standards took effect in 2010, when President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Its requirements included more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to be served to students, while setting limits on sugar, sodium and fat. It also set a limit of 850 calories per meal.
While many consider the initiative a laudable goal aimed at reducing childhood obesity, it has collided with daunting reality: students, as well as cafeteria workers, are rejecting the standards as too rigid. A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report reveals that student participation in the National School Lunch Program declined by 1.3 million students from the 2010-2011 school year through the 2012-2013 school year, “after having increased steadily for many years.” It further notes that almost all states reported that getting students to accept lunches that complied with the new standards was “challenging,” and that school food authorities (SFAs) faced many problems associated with the program. They included federally-required price increases, “plate waste” (as in food thrown away rather than eaten), overall management of food costs, and planning menus that complied with federal portion sizes and calorie requirements.