Sanity Restored to School Lunches?

It doesn't matter how healthy options are if kids won't eat them.


Lunch ladies, school staff, and political partisans were polarized by Obama-era attempts to put healthier fare on school lunch menus. The Trump administration's revision to those rules has received equally mixed reactions from folks on the frontlines of the food fight.

Supporters of the old rules contend that school meals should be nutritious, that the feds know best what this means, and that deviation from federally approved meal plans is just asking for trouble. "When it comes to our children's health, there should be no 'flexibility,'" the American Heart Association responded last December, after Megan Gibbons, executive director of the Illinois School Nutrition Association, told a local paper that changes weren't a rollback but simply offered more "flexibility."

But the Obama-era rules had led to less lunch revenue for schools, more students relying on unhealthy vending-machine snacks for sustenance, more food waste, and other unintended consequences, detractors said.

It doesn't matter how healthy options are if kids won't eat them, and many would not. "Countless parents and more than one million public school students voted with their mouths, leaving the school lunch program in unprecedented droves last year," reported Baylen Linnekin for Reason in 2014.

That was the deadline year for schools to implement some of the changes, which were set forth by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, championed by then–first lady Michelle Obama and hashed out by the Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Some of those mandates could actually have led to healthier lunches being served, but others were silly shifts that were nutrition-neutral or even made meals worse, healthwise. For instance, the rules stipulated that only nonfat flavored milk cartons could be sold. But current wisdom holds that sugar poses the nutrition problem; reducing fat content doesn't change that. Meanwhile, nonfat milk may offer fewer nutrients than 2 percent or whole milk.

Still, much ink has been spilled casting hyperbolic aspersions at the USDA's latest iteration of rules for school lunches. A Vox headline in January warned that "federally funded school lunches are about to get a lot less healthy." Four paragraphs in, the author described the changes as "mostly cosmetic."

Under the USDA's latest update, schools must still reduce sodium levels but will have until 2024 to get there. Fewer whole grains will be required in some foods, and flavored milk won't have to be nonfat. Schools are, of course, welcome to keep up with any new healthy habits they choose.

NEXT: Brickbat: Cutting Them Down to Size

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  1. Whenever someone asks why you throw your vote away with the libertarians send them this article. Republicans are so weak and ineffective they can’t even remove wildly unpopular school lunch rules implemented by a former FIRST LADY.

    The real question is why they throw their vote away on team R.

    1. >>Republicans are so weak and ineffective they can’t even remove wildly unpopular school lunch rules implemented by a former FIRST LADY

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  2. Is ketchup still a vegetable?

    1. It is the way kids use it!

    2. Ketchup comes from tomatoes.
      Tomatoes are fruits.
      Ergo ketchup is a smoothie.

      1. Forgot the line:

        Ketchup is blended fruit, ergo smoothie.

    3. Not ketchup. It was never about ketchup. It was about tomato paste, which is indeed nutritious.

      1. You’re wrong. The original 1981 proposed rules were explicitly about ‘condiments’ as a substitute for a serving of vegetables. Ketchup wasn’t mentioned but pickle relish specifically was. No one thinks of tomato paste as a condiment.

      2. Even as much tomato as is on a Pizza only counts as 1/8 of a red-orange vegetable. In my family’s experience, it has never been enough to matter in compliance with the requirement.

  3. I don’t understand the need for these rules. Aren’t government school employees government employees? If you trust the government to do the right thing, doesn’t that mean trusting government employees to do the right thing? Why does the school lunch program need any oversight at all, are they worried that government employees might do something not in the best interests of the children if they aren’t carefully watched? Quis custodiet ipsos custodies? Well, nobody custodiets the custodies – custodies don’t need custodieting, silly! That’s why they’re custodies, you can trust them!

  4. This is secondhand from a family member who works in educational nutrition, but I thought it was good to know.

    One of the biggest problems with the Obama era regulations was that the requirements were quite strict and quite arbitrary. You need to have so many grains, so many proteins, and so many vegetables of each type (at least one bean, red-orange vegetable, etc) over the course of the week.

    Many schools felt that they had no choice but to use prepackaged foods with explicit compliance labels. The risk of falling short of any of the requirements was too great. After that, the complicated mess of overlapping restrictions meant that you needed a lawyer to unpack what you could and could not serve, leading to even more reliance on prepackaged foods, since the cafeteria staff are cooks, not legal experts. Then, once they set a schedule of food up that complies, they were flat-out scared to change anything for fear of messing up the Jenga tower of compliance, making the food choices repetitive and boring.

    Trump’s changes might be removing one row from the Jenga tower, but he’s not changing the several thousand pages of existing requirements. Requirements that would be better off deleted.

    1. “Trump’s changes might be removing one row from the Jenga tower, but he’s not changing the several thousand pages of existing requirements. Requirements that would be better off deleted.”

      I’m really curious why they aren’t just deleted. I wonder if Trump’s team thinks the political backlash will be negative? Does he actually like regulating school food just wants to do it differently a la ‘repeal and replace’ obamacare? It’s really odd actually, and flies in the face of his own anti-reg rhetoric. (yeah yeah I know he’s nothing if not inconsistent…)

      1. I’m sure there are quite a few companies putting out that prepackaged crap who don’t want to lose their easiest contract.

        1. Always follow the money.

  5. Once again, the government fucks everything up. Moms & Dads can handle what their kids are allowed or not allowed to eat just fine, thank you. Today’s kids are overweight because they sit on their rear ends playing video games. Encourage the kids to go out and play ball, ride their bikes, etc. and the problem is solved, with the imposition of idiotic (read, anything Odumba produced) governnment school interference.

    1. Yeah, the problem isn’t school lunches. School lunches have always been shit. Chocolate milk and pizza somehow didn’t make everyone fat when I was in school.
      Now get off my lawn.

    2. Yep. It’s not the food, it’s the lack of exercise. Kids don’t do anything these days.
      *adjusts belt onions*

  6. All of this skirts around the real underlying issue…. that a bunch of busybodies have decided that what is healthy for one is healthy for all. And worse, they’ve taken the perspective of the middle aged, overweight heart patient as their baseline for a healthy diet.

    Low sodium? These are 10 year old kids. They don’t really need a low sodium diet.

    And they are so hyper-worried about obesity… but most kids are not obese, and they need a high calorie diet packed with nutrition because they are playing hard and growing fast. Sure, the fat kid might benefit from cutting out his chocolate whole milk and french fries, but that skinny kid who doesn’t get enough food at home sure doesn’t.

    I volunteer at my kids’ school quite a bit and I sit in for lunch sometimes. They have lots of really interesting sounding meals and everything is all Obama-friendly…. Yet it tastes like absolute crap. Because of the pre-packaged stuff written about above. They even screw up black beans and rice (a local staple) because it is frozen. That’s the cheapest and easiest meal ever.

    The result? Less that 10% of the food gets eaten.

    So well done. You’ve cured childhood obesity.

    1. Another tidbit about the menu:

      They have cheeseburger sliders sometimes. Sounds tasty, right?

      They serve it on a whole wheat bun. A very grainy, cardboardlike whole wheat bun. So nobody will eat it. Not even the adults.

      All sandwiches are on the mealy whole wheat. Ever been to a restaurant that serves burgers or sandwhiches? Notice how many whole wheat buns they serve? Yeah, there’s a reason for that. And school lunch whole wheat sucks.

      They always offer salads. So they’ll have a nice spring mix salad with a vinaigrette, nuts and a little packet of yogurt raisins. So they’ll buy the salad and then just eat the little packet of yogurt raisins. The rest goes in the trash.

      1. The nice thing about socialism… When they get hungry enough, they’ll eat the salads 😀

  7. Growing up, I always associated wheat bread with my grandma eating it to stay regular.

    And anybody who ordered a sandwich on wheat at a restaurant was going to give me a hard time about politics or cats or yoga

    1. Wheat bread has come a long way.

    2. I make an incredibly delicious whole wheat bread with no white flour at all. Unfortunately, it also has eggs, whole milk, butter and honey in it so it would probably not get a pass from the school lunch nutrition police.

  8. Put it on a plate and they shall come.

    1. And if they don’t, add some truancy laws.

  9. Get rid of public schools, issue resolved.

    1. This! it will also solve the prayer in school issue, the pledge issue, the dress code issue, the school shooting issue and the Johnny-can’t-read issue.

      1. Don’t forget – Democrats got at least 3-extra U.S. Representatives seats with illegal immigrants in a “for the children” court ruling semi-justified by means of “socialist” education in this nation. Claiming that all immigrant children cannot be “illegal” due to the children are always “innocent” and thus must be granted all citizen rights without conviction due to equal law applied to ‘any person’.

        “Get rid of public schools” —- Absolutely!! It would’ve stopped that disaster too!

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  11. Food in school now is worse than when I was a kid and that’s saying a lot. If kids don’t eat the crappy tasting food, it doesn’t matter how nutritious it is. Stop worry about things that don’t matter and cook up something worth eating.

  12. Why do schools even have lunch programs? Solve the problem by having a clean safe area where kids can eat the lunch they bring with them.

  13. The school lunches are disgusting, not all that cheap, and ironically heavily subsidized. Our tax dollars at work! The more we try and regulate it, the more wacked the whole system gets. Ms. Obama’s well intentioned efforts didn’t make anything better, and removed some fairly decent options supplied by 3rd party vendors that the kids actually liked. Oh, but don’t forget you carton of milk, which half the kids just toss. Dairy subsidy. School lunch regulation is a classic case study that proves the Libertarian position again and again. I grew up in the Reagan, ketchup is a vegetable, time period, and we laughed. But Pizza sauce is a vegetable now and has been for years; is that really any better?

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  16. Is there an epidemic of hypertension among shcool children? Why the hell are they pushing for low sodium?

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