School Lunch

Schools May Get More Time to Implement New Nutrition Requirements—and the First Lady Isn't Happy About It

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School lunch programs are back in the headlines, following a House Republican–led proposal to let some public schools opt out of new nutrition guidelines and a response Tuesday from First Lady Michelle Obama.

"This is unacceptable," Obama said during a White House roundtable discussion. "It's unacceptable to me not just as first lady, but also as a mother." 

Obama accused Republicans of targeting the lunch standards for political gain, according to The Hill

"The last thing we can afford to do right now is play politics with our kids' health," she said. "Now is not the time to roll back everything we have worked for."

The "unusually confrontational remarks were a departure for a first lady," writes the Los Angeles Times' Kathleen Hennessey:

As the nation's best-known healthy-eating advocate, Obama has typically emphasized partnerships and pledges with the makers of gummy fruit snacks and sweetened cereals, aiming for incremental changes in their products and increased marketing of healthier options.

The new lunch program rules, which took effect in 2012, aren't terribly radical. They require student food options to contain less sodium, more whole grains, and more fruits and vegetables.

Critics, however, say some school districts are losing too much lunch money to make meeting these new requirements financially feasible, at least right away. They advocate greater flexibility for schools trying to make incremental improvements. 

"I am hearing this from the school administrators as well as the students themselves," says Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), chair of the House Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies. "Less kids are buying school lunches and that undermines the intention to increase healthy eating in schools. This jeopardizes the economics of the program in many counties."

On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee is expected to approve a 2015 spending bill for the Agriculture Department. It includes a mandate that the agency waive nutrition standards for school districts that can show they've lost money due to the changes over a six month period. 

"I guess the waiver is a step in the right direction," Gitta Grether-Sweeney, nutrition-services director for Portland Public Schools in Oregon, tells the Wall Street Journal:

"What I'd rather see is a slower implementation of these regulations."

Ms. Grether-Sweeney, a registered dietitian, said that new fruit and vegetable requirements increased her expenses for produce by 31% to about $1.1 million in school year 2012-2013 from about $860,000 in 2011-2012. The difference doesn't account for price inflation.

"The students leave the serving line, go to the garbage line and then throw away their fruit or vegetable before they sit down to eat," she said. "It's sad."

Other school administrators and dietitians echoed Grether-Sweeney's sentiments. Even the School Nutrition Association—a professional group for the cafeteria crowd that originally supported the lunch program changes—recently voted in favor of allowing school districts some more flexibility. 

"We're out here on the front lines trying to implement the standards," said Leah Schmidt, the association's president and director of nutrition services for the Hickman Mills C-1 School District in Kansas City, Mo. "We really feel like we need to slow down and catch our breath. We can offer healthy food all day long, but if students don't eat it, it's not helpful to anyone."

More temporal flexibility is all the waiver is meant to establish, proponents insist. Rep. Aderholt has stressed that the temporary waiver was simply meant to throw schools "a lifeline."

In an interview with The Washington Post, Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) insists that he wants to combat childhood obesity as much as the next guy. "But I've heard from school districts, superintendents, and they are asking for flexibility," Davis says. "This top-down approach from Washington isn't working."

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  1. “We really feel like we need to slow down and catch our breath. We can offer healthy food all day long, but if students don’t eat it, it’s not helpful to anyone.”

    Davis says. “This top-down approach from Washington isn’t working.”

    “This is unacceptable,” Obama said during a White House roundtable discussion. “It’s unacceptable to me not just as first lady, but also as a mother.”

    Obama accused Republicans of targeting the lunch standards for political gain”

    Flexibility is anathema to Statists.

  2. “This top down approach from Washington isn’t working.”

    Say it ain’t so Michelle, save us before it’s too late.

  3. “Less kids are buying school lunches and that undermines the intention to increase healthy eating in schools. This jeopardizes the economics of the program in many counties.”

    Help! The Laws of Economics are jeopardizing our govt program!

    It’s just too bad that other governmental actors can’t understand this applies to their pet projects too…

  4. The Mother of the Nation has spoken. Eat your veggies, kids.

  5. Nancy Reagan was the last time I wished a first “lady” would just go away as much as I wish the current one would.

  6. The Obamas cannot fathom any valid dissention from their policies. I don’t know if it’s because their ideas are so very obviously good and pure that no one would possibly disagree or if since everything they do is political they ascribe the same motives to everyone else.

    1. Or maybe it’s because they are both a couple of arrogant, self-centered assholes who appear to see themselves as gods.

  7. Next they will try to ban the purchase of ANY snacks, so the children will be forced to buy their lunches. Which will inevitably lead to a large increase in students packing their lunches. But that’s okay, maybe we can ban those too.

    I know when I was in school, not all that long ago (10 years), I used to just buy chips and Zebra cakes if I didn’t like the lunch. So the reality here is that Her Royal Majesties plan is probably making kids eat less healthy foods, rather than the opposite.

  8. Here’s a novel idea: How about these freak’n kids eat their freak’n meals at home. Shut down all food activity in these freak’n schools.

    1. If the government is going to imprison them for 6 hours a day, they better feed them or at least allow them to bring food from home.

      1. BRING A FREAK’N SANDWICH FROM HOME IN A FREAK’N BAG AND KEEP IT IN A FREAK’N LOCKER!

        Son of a bitch! This issue has become ground zero for every cockamamie government idea. End this madness now!

        PBJ IN A FREAK’N BAG! ARE YOU PEOPLE THAT STUPID YOU CAN”T DO THIS?

        WHO WIPES YOUR ASS WHEN WAKE UP EVERY MORNING?

        1. If brownbagging is allowed, people might bring unhealthy food to school. Ergo, brownbagging must be banned by federal regulation.

  9. Close all the cafeterias. Save the money. I’ll bet the little kids can figure out where to get some food. Don’t you?

    1. And if they can’t find any food what’s the harm? As the First Lady has pointed out endlessly; the children are all obscenely obese little pigs. Surely they should be able to survive off their own body fat for a few years until they’re out of school.

  10. “It’s unacceptable to me not just as first lady, but also as a mother.”

    What possible effect do these rules have on her as a mother? Do they keep her from providing her children with healthy food? (Given that she sends her kids to private school, I’d say this is no business of hers “as a mother” at all, and that she’s just meddling in the affairs of other people’s children.)

    1. The only lunches she has to worry about as a mother come from Sidwell Friends School, since hot lunch is included in the annual tuition for middle and high school of $36,264. Those lunches are probably good enough without her direct involvement.

    2. As First Lady, she is the mother to all the nation’s children. She’s also the mother to every young girl in the world. Can’t you see how motherly she is?

  11. If the school is providing lunch to the students then its good, and this lady must be happy as school will provide the healthy food to their children.

    peau d’orange

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