Is it a coincidence that the new school lunch guidelines were announced on the birthday of Michelle Obama? The signature initiative of the former first lady was introducing meal guidelines that she deemed healthier for school children in grades K-12. Who among us doesn’t remember the photos of Michelle working in her White House vegetable garden in super-expensive sneakers? She incorporated a “Let’s Move!” exercise initiative along with the school nutrition program.
The problem with government nanny initiatives coming out of Washington, D.C. is that a one-size-fits-all approach rarely works across the country. What happened with Michelle’s lunch program was further proof that the food scolds don’t always make the best policy decisions. The schools reported large amounts of food waste because the kids weren’t eating the lunches. The transition didn’t go particularly smoothly.
Mrs. Obama’s Ivy League cohorts applauded her actions and gave her credit for improving the diets of school children, which seemed like a stretch to me at the time.
Mrs. Obama’s work “improved the diets of millions of children, especially vulnerable children in food insecure households,” said Juliana Cohen, a nutrition professor at Harvard University’s School of Public Health. More students are eating vegetables and whole grain-rich foods because of the former first lady.
“Food waste was a problem before the healthier standards were enacted, so rolling them back won’t solve that problem,” Ms. Cohen said. “It’s just that more people are paying attention to the issue now.”
With nearly 14 million American children, or about 19 percent, considered obese, few doubted Mrs. Obama’s intentions. And with more than 30 million children participating in the National School Lunch Program, school meals were a powerful way to target poor diets. Of that total, 22 million children are from low-income families.
No one doubts that we have a childhood obesity problem. However, serving kids food they aren’t going to eat doesn’t solve any of that problem. Instead of wasting the school’s food budget on food that is tossed out uneaten, it makes more sense to use that budget on food that meets nutritional guidelines without being so aggressive about food choice. For instance, an adjustment that the Trump administration made on serving flavored milk was a smart way to get the kids to drink milk. And, an adjustment was made on the whole grains requirement. This allowed for more flexibility for the schools.
The department finalized a rule in December 2018 that gave school meal providers permission to serve flavored low-fat milk in the National School Lunch Program and school breakfast program. That rule stipulated that only half of the weekly grains must be whole grain-rich, not the 100 percent target of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, and it gave providers more time to reduce sodium in meals.
Flexibility is the key to the adjustments as well as a decrease in the time spent filling out paperwork.
The USDA said that the new proposals would give “school nutrition professionals … more flexibility to serve appetizing and healthy meals that appeal to their students’ preferences and subsequently reduce food waste. The proposed rule also encourages state and local operators to focus resources on feeding children rather than administrative paperwork.”
“Schools and school districts continue to tell us that there is still too much food waste and that more common-sense flexibility is needed to provide students nutritious and appetizing meals. We listened and now we’re getting to work,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said. “Our proposed changes empower schools to give their very best to our children nationwide and have the potential to benefit nearly 100,000 schools and institutions that feed 30 million children each school day through USDA’s school meal programs. Providing children with wholesome, nutritious food is part of our motto at USDA, which is to ‘do right and feed everyone.’”
The changes are pretty basic ones – more choice in the variety of vegetables offered in the meals, while not reducing the amount of vegetables served; more customizing meals to meet the needs of different age groups; and simplifying meat and meat alternative options. Some proposals are meant to reform the summer meals programs. All of this gives more local control. All of this is in response to the requests made by schools over the past two years. The Agriculture Department plans a regulatory analysis and to open the public comment period this month.
Democrats are not pleased with the changes. A member of The Squad lays the blame solely on “The Occupant” of the White House.
Egregious. The Occupant is trying to play petty with the food our babies eat. Add it to the list affirming that the cruelty is the point with this White House. https://t.co/dowAjCu3dE
— Ayanna Pressley (@AyannaPressley) January 17, 2020
Another Squad member was just as strident. She promotes three meals a day for all students. Apparently parents no longer have the responsibility to feed their children in her vision of America.
Far-left Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar (MN) fired back by suggesting that the government should provide all the food that kids eat: “Counter proposal: make *healthy* school meals universal year-round. The #UniversalSchoolMealsProgramAct will guarantee breakfast, lunch, and dinner for every student in America.”
The chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee weighed in.
Representative Robert C. Scott of Virginia, the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said, “For many children, the food they eat at school is their only access to healthy, nutritious meals.”
The Trump administration, he added, was putting “special interests above the long-term health and development of America’s students.”
If by “special interests” Rep. Scott means the people who actually interact with the students and the food suppliers, he’s right – they are in favor of the changes. For example, the School Nutrition Association, which represents cafeteria workers and the food companies that provide schools with food supports the new guidelines.
“Updated nutrition standards for school meals have been a tremendous success over all, but a few of the requirements contributed to reduced lunch participation, higher costs and food waste,” Gay Anderson, the president of the association, said in a statement.
Trust the people closest to the children. They are the ones who know what will and will not work. In the end, the results will save taxpayer money and provide more children with the food they need to do well in school.
Happy birthday, Michelle!