School Lunch

School Lunches To Suck More Like They Used To

Awful Obama administration-era reforms are being scaled back slightly. School lunches will still stink.


School lunches
JGI/Tom Grill Blend Images/Newscom

One of the Obama administration's signature achievements is on the chopping block. A cursory look at its replacement reveals GOP efforts to scrap the Obama-era rules resemble little more than Obama-lite, and appears unlikely to achieve better outcomes.

No, I'm not referring to the incompetent efforts in Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare. Rather, I'm talking about the Trump administration's announcement this week that it will gut a series of mandates under the USDA's National School Lunch Program that were championed by former First Lady Michelle Obama.

The reforms were announced this week by new USDA Secretary Sonny Purdue under a plan to—honestly—"Make School Meals Great Again." That headline should tell you all you need to know about the Trump administration's plans.

The changes, made as part of an interim rule, include giving schools flexibility to meet whole-grain, sodium, and flavored-milk requirements implemented under the Obama administration.

"I wouldn't be as big as I am today without chocolate milk," Perdue said in a curious choice of words announcing the changes.

Critics of the interim rule were quick to pounce on the Trump administration's school-lunch agenda.

"It is outrageous that President Trump and his administration are now pushing a policy that weakens the essential nutrition standards which have strengthened access to healthy food for so many students," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) in a statement issued this week.

But hold on a minute. Students have capitalized on that strengthened access to throw away countless tons of healthier food in public-school garbage cans across America. In 2014, I wrote a recent "GAO report had found that last school year's disastrous rollout of the updated USDA National School Lunch Program helped drive 1.6 million paying students from the lunch rolls. The new rules led some schools to abandon the program, as I reported in 2012. What's more, the new rules, championed by First Lady Michelle Obama, have also resulted in unprecedented mountains of food waste."

While the rules have increased food waste dramatically and forced students and schools to flee the program, USDA estimates also show the reforms cost schools more than $1 billion a year. A 2014 Los Angeles Times editorial on massive financial losses and waste the Obama administration's school-lunch reforms caused in the city said the rules "defy common sense[.]"

That they did. And what sort of high-quality food have students been getting under the Obama administration rules?

"[T]he First Lady's school lunch reforms may have improved the quality of food choices slightly, but they also increased food waste. I say 'slightly' because school lunch menus have changed little, even after the [the First Lady's] reforms," I write in my recent book, Biting the Hands That Feed Us.

Indeed, USDA reforms to the school-lunch program didn't exactly turn school lunchrooms into Chez Panisse, as I wrote in a 2014 column that highlighted my own local school system's lunch offerings: "whole grain chicken patty sandwich with tater tots, whole grain cheese or pepperoni pizza, hot dog with tater tots, french toast sticks with sausage, mac 'n cheese with whole grain chicken bites, whole grain chicken nuggets with blueberry bread."

Objectively, the Obama administration's food is not great food. But the Trump administration's plans—rulemaking of the sort supported by congressional Republicans for several years—won't make school lunches great, either.

"[T]he plan favored by many Republicans in Congress— to gut the First Lady's reforms and return the USDA National School Lunch Program to where it was five or six years ago—may worsen the quality of food choices slightly, but would probably decrease food waste," I write in Biting the Hands that Feed Us.

GOP plans are not an attempt to institute wholesale, needed reforms. Rather, the Trump plan is to tap the brakes on the expansion of a massive, problematic government program. Even the conservative Free Beacon characterizes the crux of Purdue's plans as "giving schools greater freedom in complying with the former first lady's school lunch rules."

The whole problem with the infuriating notion of making school lunches great again is that school lunches in this country have never been great. They were not great before Michelle Obama decided she could improve them. They have not been great since Michelle Obama attempted to improve them. Walking the school lunch program back a few years is a big idea only to small minds.

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  1. …the Trump plan is to tap the brakes on the expansion of a massive, problematic government program.

    You’re lucky they’re serving you that much.

    1. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

      This is what I do…,.,.,.,

  2. Prison food has never been high-quality delectables. If the little shits don’t like the food, they shouldn’t have done whatever it was that caused their incarceration.


  4. The Federal gov shouldn’t be involved in any way with school lunches (or schools for that matter) so no one should give a federal fuck if school lunches are good or bad, better or worse, etc.

    Reason’s (libertarian?) “food policy expert” seems to have left that part out of the analysis.

    1. Also, it’s a given that if you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding.

      1. How can you even eat your pudding if you can’t eat your meat???

        1. Hey, teacher! Leave them kids alone!

          1. All in all, there just bricks in (Trump’s) wall..

            1. They’re. Stupid autocorrect

    2. HEAR, HEAR!

    3. So, I went to the article linked near the end for “much needed reform” to understand the reforms the author wants. Here is the central paragraphs describing an idea:

      “This week my nonprofit, Keep Food Legal, launched a new project we’re calling Opt Out of School Lunch. The project urges families to take back control of what their kids are eating by preparing a simple brown-bag lunch for each child, every school day. We want families to stop fighting for the unreachable goal of having the USDA provide food that is both objectively “better” and that appeals to everyone. There are too many special interests (including the government itself) involved in deciding what “food” ends up on a child’s plate.

      We’re appealing to students, educators, businesses, nonprofits, and taxpayers to work together to find solutions for kids whose parents may not be able to afford to bring a lunch every day. And we’re calling on restaurateurs, caterers, and grocers who often throw away food good enough to bring home and serve to their own families the next day as leftovers to end the senseless and needless food waste and to donate that food to families in need.”

      Sounds reasonably Libertarian. At least it emphasizes personal responsibility quite a bit.

      1. This seems like cronyist dumpster diving to me. I agree that the fed govt has no competence whatsoever in this. But imo the best way for kids to eat healthier food is:

        1. to have them grow food in a greenhouse
        2. to have them cook food themselves
        3. to have them clean up after themselves

        It won’t save much or any money. But it eliminates the biggest cause of picky eating junk-food-munching in kids – treating them like Princess Snowflake where everyone else in the world is at their service.

        1. Forgot 4 – they don’t do their chores, they don’t eat.

  5. ^^this. WTF

  6. Want to greatly improve the edibility of school lunches, and cut costs, while causing Progressive Left heads to explode? Hire McDonalds. Given what I recall of school lunches (and I went to a private school!) you’d probably improve the nutrition too.

    1. From

      For the 2016?2017 school year, schools are reimbursed by the federal government $3.22 per free lunch served, $2.82 per reduced-priced lunch, and 36 cents per “paid” lunch. Free students must not be charged any amount, and reduced-price students must not be charged more than 40 cents for lunch.

      Compare $3.22 per “free” federal-government lunch with the cost of a McDonald’s cheeseburger happy meal at $2.79, or chicken nuggets happy meal at $3.29, which also allows McDonald’s to turn a healthy profit. And the kids get a toy.

      1. Better yet, each school gets three restaurants, McD’s, Subway, Pizza hut , whatever. If a provider fails to serve enough lunches, contract doesn’t get renewed.

        Give the kids a choice

  7. School lunches will still stink.

    They stink no matter what you do for two reasons:

    a) The quality of the food is not subjected to a market test and,
    b) The purpose of the lunches is not to feed poor students, anyway. That’s more an excuse than a reason. The purpose of school lunches is to feed poor school lunch factory owners.

    1. The quality of the food is not subjected to a market test

      Oh, there’s still a market test. It just comes after the food is given to the students. Where do you think the stuff in the garbage cans comes from?

    2. This. It’s a subsidy to the SEIU.
      Student’s don’t have any choices – or to the extent they do it does not affect profits.

      The entire public school system is basically an arm of the Democratic Party, from the teachers’ unions to the cafeteria workers.

  8. The military is still pushing the whole-grain, low-fat bullshit, and is also not coincidentally dealing with a lot of fatasses.

    1. There will come a point, eventually, where we’ll get it through our thick skulls that the amount we eat is having a far greater impact on obesity rates than whatever the hell it is we’re eating.

      1. That ain’t true. The reason we are getting fatter is because we aren’t burning as much per day as we used to. Jobs/life is far more sedentary. This SHOULD mean that we should be eating roughly the same amount of protein/fat (which aren’t just burned as energy – and which tend to force production of glucagon) as before – but a shit-ton less carbs(which are just burned as energy – and which tend to force production of insulin). And in particular a shit-ton less grains/sugar rather than less fruits/veg (which still have other stuff than just energy).

        Instead, we are eating about the same as we always have with just some minor substitutions (more grains/less sugar, more chicken/less beef). That failure to drop intake of grains/sugar – combined with less activity – means our bodies are producing more insulin. And insulin sends a message to the body – store everything excess as body fat and don’t shit/pee out any excess. And if the body starts to resist insulin – hey presto, diabetes.

        1. And the most extreme demographic example of increasing sedentariness in modern life is – kids. That group should be at the extreme of almost no grains/sugar at all – esp since their eating habits as kids will define their eating habits forever.

      2. we’ll get it through our thick skulls that the amount we eat is having a far greater impact on obesity rates than whatever the hell it is we’re eating

        Sorry, that’s just as wrong as the “low fat diets”.

    2. I think that’s more to do with the military, especially at land-based combat bases, not capping how much or how often you can eat at the galley. And a lot of guys whose job keeps them inside the wire for the majority of the time don’t have a lot to do off-duty *except* to eat.

      I didn’t see any push for whole-grain, low-fat stuff in my time in the Navy. As recently as 2011, stationed on a Marine base, there was plenty of deep-fried options available.

    3. Whole grain is not bullshit, low-fat is.
      It’s simple carbs and lack of exercise that make people fat. If you’re eating whole grains, that’s a slight improvement (more complex carbs, plus certain minerals), but you have to eat MOSTLY meat and vegetables. Filling up on whole grains while avoiding fats won’t help you lose weight. You’ll still get a glucose burst and crash and get hungry again without the fat.

      If you get enough exercise (at least 30 minutes of vigorous exercise per day), you can more or less eat what you want though, you just won’t crave simple carbs as much. Exercise improves your body’s ability to process food and extract stored energy so you don’t feel like you need a boost of glucose. You won’t have a sudden craving for a sugary drink because your body will be able to access the energy stored in the food you already ate. The less you exercise, the lower the threshold at which your body says “it’s easier to just eat more than it is to get the energy out of that hamburger fat.”

  9. The correlation between increased obesity of school children and increased government regulation in school food is entirely illusory; nothing to see here, move along.

  10. The new rules led some schools to abandon the program,

    See? Obama is a secret libertarian.
    Why do we want schools to stay on the dole? Make the school lunch program so repellent that EVERYONE drops out.

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