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“At one recent lunch at the McCook Junior High, students cheerfully grabbed an orange or apple as part of their lunch,” writes Lorri Sughroue in an optimistically titled piece, “No Food Fight Here: Students Adjust to New School Lunches,” that appeared in the McCook (Nebraska) Daily Gazette this week.
“But afterward,” continues Sughroue, “a long line of kids formed at the ‘Snack Bar,’ which sells cookies, pretzels, potato chips and Powerade.”
Sughroue also quoted Sodexo employee Diana Gull, who observed, “There’s a line [at the Snack Bar] until the bell rings, it’s non-stop."
The rules have also meant other headaches, including barring kids from customizing their USDA school lunches. Don’t want cheese on your tacos, Junior? Tough.
So what is one to conclude about the new USDA rules and they way they’re being implemented?
Just weeks into the new school year, it appears that the new rules largely treat every student as if they’re obese, and that it is the USDA’s position that fewer animal products and more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will help them shed the necessary weight.
I’m not a nutritionist. But putting millions of growing, hungry schoolkids on a restricted diet—from student-athletes to needy kids who may count on the school lunch as “their best, and perhaps only, meal of the day”—under the guise of a Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act—seems like dangerous doublespeak.
Others agree. In New York, certified nutritionist Kim Thompson told WKTV she now “recommends that student athletes bring extra food to school or buy extra food in the cafeteria.”
Kansas school superintendent Suzan Patton, meanwhile, informed the Pratt Tribune, "It’s not addressing the needs of the kids that are healthy." Furthermore, she said, "One size fits all is not meeting all the needs."
Some prominent National School Lunch Program supporters also appear to be qualifying their support. Bettina Siegel, perhaps best known as the driving force behind the removal of so-called pink slime from school lunches and elsewhere, writes that school lunch portion sizes now show “clearly we have a problem”—it may be that they’re now too small.
So what can families do? As I did here back in May, I’ll again pitch my nonprofit Keep Food Legal’s new project, Opt Out of School Lunch. While you'll find more details at our website, our suggestion boils down to this: Brown bag it. For those students whose families are unable to afford making lunch every day, we urge businesses and schools to work together with these families to find tasty and healthy solutions.
Unlike CSPI’s Wootan, NYU’s Nestle, and First Lady Michelle Obama, I don’t pretend to know what the government should be feeding your children. What I do know is that you should be feeding your own children to the greatest extent and to the best of your abilities.
Don’t give your child a dollar and hope they eat what you want them to eat. Send them to school with the food you want them to eat.
By taking part in the USDA’s National School Lunch Program charade, you’re wrongly endorsing the agency’s policies and joining those “celebrating” its “best ever” reforms. The USDA may not be able to do better than that. But you can.