Republicans in Congress push unhealthy school lunches

New guidelines from the US Department of Agriculture went into effect during the 2013-14 school year that made school lunches healthier:

Strict calorie and sodium limits are in effect, schools have to offer dark green, orange, or red vegetables and legumes at least once a week, and students have to pick at least one vegetable or fruit per meal. In addition, any flavored milk products must be non-fat. The new guidelines also limit the trans fat levels in meals.

Because the guidelines encouraged farm-to-school programs, even farmers liked them. Not only did farmers get payments directly from the schools, rather than going through a middleman, which also saved the schools some money, but farmers felt like part of the community that cared about kids getting nutritious meals.

Now several Republicans in the US Congress want to make financially struggling school districts exempt from the healthy-lunch guidelines, which aren’t even a year old, the New York Times reports. They say kids don’t eat the healthy food, and the cost to the schools to provide it—and then throw it away—is too much to bear.

First of all, as we reported back in August, many schools have come up with creative ways to market the healthier food to students. Poor districts can’t do as good a job, maybe, but the Agriculture Department has made several resources available to schools free of charge.

Second, kids will eat nutritious food (period). They will. I’ve seen them devour fruits, salads, veggies, and other healthy options in cafeterias. It’s all in the presentation. The energy to learn is the key in any presentation, and pizza in a cellophane shrink wrap or French toast on Styrofoam doesn’t have near the energy value as an orange or banana.

Third, if money’s the problem—and that seems to be the case, since Republicans aren’t calling for districts in more affluent areas to be exempt—they should send money to the schools, rather than taking away what is probably the best meals kids get in their day. We should not take healthy meals away from kids whose families already struggle to provide healthy food options in their homes.

Look, the sponsors of School Nutrition Association meetings are big corporations like McDonald’s, PepsiCo, Domino’s Pizza, and others that push cheap, unhealthy food on kids through some of the best marketing campaigns ever produced. The School Nutrition Association has gone so far as to ask Congress to lift the rule that students must take fruits and vegetables on the lunch line, Mother Jones reported earlier this month. I wonder who’s behind that campaign.

If those greedy corporations get enough Congressional Republicans on their side, poor kids will never get another healthy meal and will develop eating habits around food products that, consumed as one’s only source of energy, will prematurely end their lives.

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Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more biographical information, see the About page.

1 Comment on "Republicans in Congress push unhealthy school lunches"

  1. The House Appropriations Committee passed an agriculture budget bill yesterday that includes nearly $21 billion for child nutrition but would allow schools to opt out of those nutritional guidelines, the New York Times reports. The vote was 31 to 18. The full House could consider the bill in the next few weeks.

    Rep Robert B Aderholt, Republican of Alabama and chairman of the House appropriations agriculture subcommittee, said the provision would give schools 12 months to help them comply with the rules: “Everyone supports healthy meals for children, But the bottom line is that schools are finding it’s too much, too quick.”

    Rep Sam Farr of California, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, said the waiver would undermine congressional efforts to provide children with nutritious foods. Mr Farr’s proposed amendment, which would have removed the waiver from the budget bill, was defeated 29 to 22 after nearly two hours of debate.

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