School Lunch

This Is What Happens When the Federal Government Plays National Lunch Lady


Ishikawa Ken/Flickr

I'd like to state up front that I fully support First Lady Michelle Obama's assertion that school cafeterias should be serving less refined carbohydrates and more fruits and vegetables. I'd just like to leave it up to individual states, cities, or school districts to work out the specifics. When you have the federal government dictating the precise percentage of whole grain flour that must be used in school cafeteria carbs, you wind up with the ridiculous, time-wasting "food fight"* that's been taking place in the U.S. House this week

To sum up the silliness (which I blogged about in more detail here): New rules for school lunch programs that take federal funding require cafeterias to offer more whole grains, more fruits and vegetables, and less sodium-heavy options. A provision tacked onto the agriculture appropriations bill by House Republicans would allow schools having trouble meeting these requirements to seek a temporary one-year waiver. That's it.

The House Appropriations Committee passed the budget bill, including the school nutrition program waiver, on Thursday, by a vote of 31 to 18. "Everyone supports healthy meals for children," Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), chairman of the House appropriations agriculture subcommittee, told The New York Times. "The bottom line is that schools are finding it's too much, too quick."

The response from Mrs. Obama and her supporters has been unequivocal. On Tuesday, the first lady called the waiver "unacceptable" and an example of Republicans "playing politics" with kids' health. Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) called the waiver a "poison pill."

It all smacks of unbelievable arrogance. It's one thing for Michelle Obama to promote more nutritious cafeteria fare, help develop best practices that schools could follow, and work closely with school districts to implement these practices. Those are all incredibly worthwhile projects.

But setting highly specific and ironclad rules for schools across the country crosses the line. Why should D.C. dietitians, politicians, and bureaucrats know better than lunch program administrators themselves what's feasible in their school districts, and in what time frame? Congressional leaders are now wasting time and energy fighting over things that would really be best hashed out on a local level. We just don't need the centralized planning of our cafeteria trays. 

* Seemingly one out of every two journalists covering this issue can't resist using that pun in headlines. 

NEXT: What the Hell Are 'Student Success Fees'? (Or: How to Raise Tuition Without Raising Tuition)

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  1. Is that supposed to be a healthy meal? I would suggest throwing out the pasta and just dipping the fries in the marinara. That would make it somewhat more healthy.

    1. No, it’s supposed to be somewhat representative. School lunches are pretty sad.

      Also I’m from southern Ohio. We did a lot of chili over spaghetti in our school cafeterias.

      1. Mmmm, Skyline…

      2. Cincinnati, I presume – up in Dayton we didn’t much appreciate zero-alarm chili over plain spaghetti.

      3. Cincinnati-style chili is an abomination.

        1. It’s far worse than a mere “abomination.” It’s not chili ?. it’s some type of pathetic excuse for mystery meat.

      4. I’m from Cincy.

        1. Who dey.

      5. Skyline for the win. Goldstar is guaranteed food poisoning.

    2. Potatoes are a vegetable! Just like ketchup!

    3. French fries? I thought they were wax beans or some pod-shaped vegetable, overcooked. Like, who would expect potatoes with spaghetti?

  2. Margo G. Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the legislation was an attempt to gut school food standards. “Just because math and science programs in schools are hard,” she said, “you don’t throw out the courses.”

    Good Lord.

    1. Center for Science in the Public Interest continues to be one of those things that is exactly the opposite of its name.

      1. It’s kind of like the holy roman empire in that regard.

        1. Well, they were somewhat imperial.

  3. I’d just like to leave it up to individual states, cities, or school districts to work out the specifics.

    And behold, the individual states, cities, and school districts are perfectly free to do so. They just can’t get taxpayers to foot the bill for it.

    1. Not taxpayers from other states, anyway.

      1. I know, I know. But I still think more local decisions about what to serve would be more desirable for taxpayer-funded school lunches than a top-down mandate.

    2. The feds shouldn’t be involved in providing school lunches. Period. If hungry students are a problem, then the locals can take up a tax and pay for it themselves.

  4. Throw some ketchup in that spaghetti so we can call it a vegetable. Problem solved.

  5. The cafeteria wasn’t too bad in high school, which I attended in the late 70’s.

    I actually anticipated the sloppy joe day – those were delicious. I also highly approved of the “hamburg and gravy on mashed potatoes”, which everyone else hated.

    I don’t remember anything else they served.

    I’m sure neither of those would pass muster today. More’s the pity…

    1. Peanut butter in celery sticks FTW.

      1. They couldn’t server peanut butter in the school I attended to avoid potential allergy cases (mind you, none of the students even claimed an allergy)

    2. Sausage pizza that looked like a carpet square. And people wonder why I didint like pizza until I was an adult…and still don’t really.

      1. Sounds like Thursday lunchtime to me!

    3. I always kinda liked the “hot turkey sandwich” with that weird nuclear yellow gravy.

      1. We had ‘suspiciously gray’ gravy.

      2. Wow. I’d forgotten about that stuff. What the hell *was* it?

      3. We had burritos with what appeared to be Hunt’s canned tomato sauce – straight out of the can – for the “salsa”. I loved those fuckin’ things.

        1. We also had nacho day, which was a pile of tortilla chips with cheese whiz and ground beef.

    4. I got school lunch about twice in my life and decided it was shit.

    5. I got school lunch about twice in my life and decided it was shit.

      1. We got your comment about twice in this article and decided it was shit.

  6. Cardboard pizza with salty mozzerella is part of my cultural and ethnic heritage.
    This is straight up genocide and we won’t stand for it.

  7. the ridiculous, time-wasting “food fight”* that’s been taking place in the U.S. House this week.

    “Ridiculous”? “Time-wasting”?

    Sheesh, Elizabeth, don’t you understand that children — the *future* — are our top priority?

    1. The more time wasted on items like this, the better.

      1. That definitely crossed my mind.

  8. “playing politics with kids’ health”

    This line always irks me. The people who made the content of childrens’ lunch into a Federal case are the ones who are responsible for making kids’ health subject to the rule of politicians. Is passing regulations dictating what goes into their lunches supposed to REDUCE the role of politics?

    1. It’s doublespeak. Just invert the meaning and you’ll get it.

      1. Oceania has always been at war with Taco Tuesday.

      2. “Playing health with kids’ politics”?

        Oh, yeah — you’re right!

        1. “Kids playing with Health politics” also works.

          1. Doublespeak, don’t ya know? 😉

  9. you wind up with the ridiculous, time-wasting “food fight”* that’s been taking place in the U.S. House this week.

    Would that Congress would waste all of its time on such issues.

    1. They could even take some time off of the issue in order to proclaim National Doughnut Day and I wouldn’t complain.

  10. IIRC, a large part of the fight is over whole-grain pasta, which, incidentally, tastes like shit. I know because I have tried it.

    The kids won’t eat it, and the schools havn’t figured out what to make instead.

    But I have difficulty caring considering that I don’t think the schools should be responsible for feeding children anyway.

    If I had my way, there would at most be a sandwich and salad bar. No hot lunches at all. Parents would be encouraged to pack a lunch for their kids. Maybe some microwaves to warm things up.

    1. If your whole grain pasta tastes like shit you didn’t make it right, or you didn’t put anything good on it.

      WGP has a wheat-ey nutty flavor, and it’s fucking delicious.


      1. ^THIS^

      2. “If your whole grain pasta tastes like shit you didn’t make it right,…”

        Correct. The no. 1 mistake people make with whole grain pasta is putting it into their mouth. Plow that shit into the garden.

      3. Agreed. I prefer whole grain pasta.

        1. And it costs more. Which is usually the first consideration of the school district.

          Along come the Feds with the false choice: Your school has to serve more expensive meals. If you want us to give you the money for that we will; but then you allow us to have more control over your school.

          So it’s the typical Democrat ploy: raise taxes or take away rights (and usually both).

    2. I’ve had lots of different HGP’s and they range in taste from cardboardy to nutty depending on the the particular grains, and the percentage of whole versus milled grains in the product.

    3. Meal supplement protein shakes from a Slurpy machine.

      We can use hemp protein since it’s vegan, cheap to grow, and high in fiber.

      1. School lunch in the ideal progresso-land of the future…. vegan green smoothies made from hemp protein and soy milk.

        This sounds exactly like the nutritional gruel I think should be provided to food stamp recipients.

        1. Blech to soy. You want our boys to have bitch-tits?

          We can use the whole hemp plant (just like the Indians!) and use hemp milk too.

    4. What Hazel said to about the fifteenth power.

      … Hobbit

  11. As we all know, all kids have the exact same nutritional requirements, the same reactions to food, the same religious rules (if any), the same likes, and the same dislikes. It’s important that the feds and the schools force a one-size fits all food regime on them, rather than parents determining what their kids should eat. How can you not all see that? Do you hate the children?

    1. Do you hate the children?

      A little

      1. I only hate other people’s kids.

      2. Given that children are the ultimate trojan horse for socialism, you’d be justified.

        Redeeming feature: they taste delicious.

        1. Their tiny little hands make them perfect for our thorium and diamond mines too.

          1. Dang, I don’t get all this child hate…who do they have carry their sedan chairs and polish their monocles?!

        2. Given that children are the ultimate trojan horse for socialism…


        1. ^This

  12. If public schools cannot figure out how to properly feed children, why is there any hope at all that they can also deliver a quality education?

    1. I would have phrased it this way:

      If public schools cannot figure out how to properly educate children, why is there any hope they can deliver a quality lunch?

  13. Remind me again. Is Michelle Obama a fucking elected official or not?

    1. Is she fucking an elected official or not?

      /Captain Obvious

      1. Probably not.

      2. Ha!

        Who’s fucking whom here?

        1. I Don’t Know!

        2. They’re fucking us, that’s for sure.

    2. What difference at this point does it make?

    3. Which state will Michelle carpet-bag to to become a Senator? Or is Illinois going to be stuck with her?

  14. * Seemingly one out of every two journalists covering this issue can’t resist using that pun in headlines.

    “This disagreement is becoming un-BEAR-able!”

    Michelle notices that schools feed kids garbage that you wouldn’t feed to a hobo’s dog. Good for her. Does she notice that several decades of federal food policy has led to this? Wait, don’t answer that.

    1. The problem isn’t that Government is involved, it is that somehow the issue got mixed up with politics!

      People who think that this-or-that government program would work fine (ex VA Hospitals) if only people didn’t play politics with it also probably believe that prostitution would be harmless if it could just be disassociated with sex.

  15. Have a heaping helping of shit on a shingle, Michelle.

    Real shit, on an asbestos shingle.

    1. What is “elephant scabs on gauze”, chopped liver?

      1. No, chopped liver is much too good for them.

  16. The reason it’s a big deal is that a lot of school systems that have switched have found that the kids don’t like the food. It’s not nearly as good as in pilot programs.

    The old “healthy, cheap, tasty: pick two” thing applies. So a lot of school districts are finding that they can’t run their school lunch programs under the new scheme without spending a lot more money. If they don’t spend more on more expensive healthy food, and go for cheap healthy food, then kids don’t buy it, and they lose money that way.

    So some school districts are worrying about having to furlough teachers, etc. because of having to spend more on school lunches. The usual Democratic Party response is to deny that choices and tradeoffs have to be made in life.

    1. I deserve to have all three things.

      (This applies to pretty much any scenario where you can only pick two out of three.)

      1. And I damned well deserve to have other people pay for it, so cost is no object!

    2. It’s possible to have all three things, but only if you are a really good cook.

      Good cooks don’t come cheap if you have to pay for them.

      1. Yeah, this fell victim to the whole “the pilot program was great with super motivated highly trained researchers– why didn’t it scale when we rolled it out to all the long time lunch ladies?”

  17. Hi everybody. I’m on my way to Hong Kong. Any ideas what I should do there for a few days after I’m done working?

    1. Hookers and blow.

      Course, they’re good everywhere…still.

      have fun!

    2. The laser light show over the harbor each night is the awesome. Macau is cool too.

  18. “We just don’t need the centralized planning of ( anything)…”


  19. I’m gona film myself eating a large thin crust pizza with every farm animal as a topping an downing a 2L of Mt. Dew in one sitting. Then I’ll send it to the first lady and nanny bloomberg.

    1. Do you have the stomach capacity for that?

      1. Only one way to find out.

  20. I find it increasingly difficult to read ANY food or nutrition-related article from the Reason staff. It is obvious that all writers on this topic are essentially liberals or Whole Foods shoppers who worship at the altar of “natural” and “organic” (even though they allegedly support food freedom). Look through the archives, some of these same writers who are now stunned with the anti-science, non-GMO movement have actually written statements SUPPORTING natural/organic/non-GMO.

    “I fully support First Lady Michelle Obama’s assertion that school cafeterias should be serving less refined carbohydrates and more fruits and vegetables”

    Please – hire some REAL scientists to write these articles are spare us the Kool-aid drinkers who believe this nonsense.

      1. It’s a job application, can’t you tell?

    1. Hi Tulpa!

      1. Could be. It certainly sounds stupid and smug enough.

        1. Is there a specific comment with which you disagree? I concur with wareagle’s that the Food Pyramid is absurd. But whole grains and fruits simply compound that issue.

          The fact is that with the lone exception of John Stossel, every Reason writer who alleges belief in food freedom PERSONALLY subscribes to the theory that organic/natural/whole foods are better for you. A quick read of their stories and bio provides the facts.

    2. in all fairness, what part of Michelle’s statement is wrong? You don’t need to a scientist to figure out that the USDA food pyramid is bullshit, that America’s carb-loading may have something to do with its obesity, etc.

      **hey, does this mean I can get a gig at Reason as a science writer now?**

  21. In addition to the fact that the government lunch taste like shit, it also doesn’t have nearly enough nutrients for a lot of the students. Student athletes especially need more protein and carbs than what they’re offered. Several coaches I know have complained about kids with no energy at practice, or in the weight room.

  22. Speaking of skoolz, here’s money well spent. *rolling eyes*

    1. Weren’t we just laughing at them the other day for throwing a similar pile of cash down the toilet in Newark?

  23. I’d like to state up front that I fully support First Lady Michelle Obama’s assertion that school cafeterias should be serving less refined carbohydrates and more fruits and vegetables. I’d just like to leave it up to individual states, cities, or school districts to work out the specifics.

    this is not even an issue in a free market for schooling.

  24. When I was growing up, the cafeteria food was often crappy. When it was I had two choices: either force myself to eat it anyways or go hungry until dinner. On the occasions where it was so bad I chose the “go hungry until dinner” option, I never would have dreamed of whining to my parents about it because they’d have just told me it was entirely my own fault I was hungry, so stop bothering them about it.

    Nowadays we have all these spoiled brats that turn up their noses at perfectly good food and then when they whine about it, their parents complain to the school instead of telling their kids to quit being knuckleheads.

  25. “and less sodium-heavy options”.

    Unless these kids have salt-sensitive hypertension, there is absolutely no good scientific or medical basis for lowering their salt intake.

    (Honestly, the lunch in the thumbnail looks pretty okay to me, in terms of “would I eat that if I was a school kid”…)

    (And this completely ignores the question of “what enumerated power…?”)

    1. Oh, yeah, the sodium thing is total bullshit.

  26. An Obama against a waiver? What is this, the Onion?

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