Fixing problems that don’t exist seems to be a specialty of federal agencies lately. Fixing nonexistent problems with school lunches threatens to leave America’s children both hungry and sick.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that Congress approved in 2010 gradually has been transforming school meals and kids’ food experiences. Michele Obama has called it one of the key accomplishments of her time as first lady.
It doesn’t take a Democrat, an Obama fan or a foodie to know that healthy food is important for children. The food served by public schools can be the only healthy calories—or even the only calories—that some children get most days.
Thirty million school children eat hot lunches at school. Twenty million qualify for free or reduced-cost meals. According to a Baylor University study, lunches provide nearly half the daily calories and 40 percent of the vegetables that poor kids eat.
Those details are taking a back seat to the current administration’s obsession over eliminating anything Obama. The Department of Agriculture has issued new guidelines giving what is described as flexibility to school food service professionals.
New rules allow potatoes instead of fruit in breakfast menus. Lower sodium, whole grain and low-fat milk standards have been slow-walked. Required fruit calories can be met with pastries or granola bars.
Not to worry, the administration says—middle schools and high schools can offer students the option of buying a la carte nutritious fruits and grains as snacks.
Complaints about nanny-state interference and the amount of food thrown away are being used to justify looser standards. Intensive lobbying by the giant food companies and groups like the National Potato Council carry far more weight.
To ensure that districts and food service management companies comply with even these less restrictive guidelines, reviews will be pushed back to a five-year cycle from the current three years.
Cheap, quick food scientifically created with salt, fat and sugar helps create lifelong preferences that contribute to chronic diseases and growing obesity rates. Some kids, especially those who live in the food deserts of low-income urban and rural neighborhoods, have little chance to discover the pleasure of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Reducing paperwork and making life easier for food companies and school districts should never be paid for with the health of children.
Rule changes and public comment links are available online at regulations.gov. Make your voices heard before the deadline March 23.