USDA to make school lunches edible again. Michelle Obama hardest hit.

With Sonny Perdue in at Agriculture you might expect him to kick things off with some changes to ethanol subsidies or President Trump’s new executive order designed to help out farmers. But he’s got something else on the menu (pardon the pun) which is long overdue and should be considerably easier to accomplish. While Barack Obama was in office there were some big changes to school lunches which were ostensibly intended to make them more nutritious, but actually wound up making them mostly inedible. (A project championed by Michelle Obama as her signature issue.) On Monday, those rules may be changing, much to the relief of students around the nation. (The Hill)

Newly minted Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is expected to unveil a new rule Monday aimed at giving schools more flexibility in meeting federal nutrition standards for school lunches.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Friday that Perdue and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) will make the announcement at the Catoctin Elementary School in Leesburg, Va., where they are expected to eat lunch with the students.

Republicans have long been trying to dial back the standards that became a pillar of former first lady Michelle Obama ’s initiative to curb childhood obesity in the U.S.

I’m sure they’ll find better ways to describe it for PR reasons, but what we’re mostly expecting is a revamp of the program to “Make Lunches Edible Again.” Taking virtually all the salt out of the menu items and pushing raw veggies while scaling back on meat or anything with any fat in it was a disaster in the making from the beginning. This was something I first started writing about nearly three years ago in terms of Michelle Obama’s War on Edible Food.

But it wasn’t just students and conservative pundits who were bucking this trend. The School Nutrition Association (SNA) was lobbying the Trump administration to roll back the Obama era rules almost as soon as he was sworn in. And that wasn’t the first time the SNA had weighed in on the subject. In the first years of the new lunch program they were talking about the “food waste” issue.

“I’m seeing more food waste than is acceptable,” said Lynn Harvey, SNA’s incoming vice president and chief of School Nutrition Services for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

“What we need are modest modifications to the rules that would enable us to provide foods that children like and will accept,” she said during a hearing of the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education last month.

Not only, critics contend, have the strict standards caused participation in the school lunch program to decline, they’ve created black markets for salt packets in cafeterias and more work for security guards, who now have to stop pizza deliveries from coming onto campuses.

That’s just a nicer way of saying that too many lunches were winding up in the garbage rather than in the students’ stomachs. And food which is thrown away isn’t improving anyone’s health or dietary habits. What the changes too often did, as SNA noted, was to drive students off campus at lunch time to seek out something they could actually stomach. (Assuming they could come up with the cash to buy something at the local fast food outlet.) And when that happens, the schools and the parents have lost all control over what the kids are eating. Rather than ingesting some options which might not be the vegan ideal but still had some nutritional value, the students who wound up wolfing down a Big Mac and large fries before rushing back to class were actually doing more to defeat the original objectives of the program than supporting it.

So rejoice, kids. In fairly short order you might be back to visiting with the Lunch Lady every day again. You’re to be forgiven if that’s not the most exciting news you’ve heard all year, but it’s at least better than nothing.

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David Strom 8:31 PM on November 29, 2022