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.