This year the USDA changed the guidelines for school lunches across the country and there seems to be an uproar over it. Some feel that the new limits are restricting and kids are not getting enough to eat while others are still saying school lunches are far from healthy.
The new lunch standards are far from small portions. Kindergarteners through fifth-graders get up to 650 calories. The maximum is 700 for kids in grades six through eight, and 850 for high schoolers. All kids can have extra servings of vegetables. Considering that statistically, children today are less active and follow a more sedentary lifestyle than ever before, this caloric intake is more than enough for lunch.
Many say this uproar has nothing to do with school food and everything to do with election-year politics. Some Republicans view school meals as convenient generator of emotional opposition to the incumbent president. An example is the “No Hungry Kids Act” introduced by Reps. Steve King, R-Iowa, and Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., both members of the House Agriculture Committee.
Their act would repeal the USDA’s hard-won nutrition standards and prohibit upper limits on calories. They explain that this is to undo “the misguided nanny state, as advanced by Michelle Obama’s Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act.”
In 2004, Congress required school districts to develop wellness policies, but left the details up to the districts. In part to resolve the resulting inconsistencies, Congress asked the USDA to develop new nutrition standards.The USDA asked the Institute of Medicine to study the situation and make recommendations.
In 2009, they started aligning school meals with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans by increasing fruits, vegetables and whole grains, but reducing saturated fat, sodium and calories. It suggested encouraging students to try new vegetables by establishing weekly requirements for various kinds, but to limit starchy vegetables like potatoes to one cup a week.
In 2010, Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act which required the USDA to set nutrition standards for all food sold and served in schools, not only at breakfast and lunch, but also at any time during the school day.
These, you may recall, got the USDA in trouble with lobbyists for businesses that supply French fries and pizza to schools. The Senate amended the agriculture spending bill to say that none of its funds could be used to “set any maximum limits on the serving of vegetables in school meal programs” or “require crediting of tomato paste and puree based on volume.” The results include no weekly limits on French fries; a dab of tomato paste on pizza now counts as a vegetable serving!
With these allowances in place, the USDA released the new standards in January. Most observers viewed them as an important accomplishment of the first lady’s Let’s Move campaign to end childhood obesity within a generation.
Since then students complain that the new meals leave them hungry? As a result, many political leaders are supporting children on this by telling them to eat healthy snacks if they are hungry.
The biggest question now being raised is where are the parents and other adults in all of this? Childhood obesity is not trivial in its consequences for many kids and school meals should set the example for how nutritious and flavorful healthy foods can be. Adults should set the example for kids by not only eating healthy but encouraging things such as trying new foods, swapping out unhealthy snacks for better options, and drinking water over soda.
At the end of the day, we can’t let politics get in the way of school lunches and instead need to look at the bigger picture and that is keeping our children healthy!