School Lunch

No Matter Who Wins the Fight Over Trump's School Lunch Reforms, Kids Lose.

School lunches are unlikely to improve, whatever the lawsuit’s outcome.


Just days before many kids in the United States return to school from summer vacation, President Donald Trump's administration responded in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to a multi-state lawsuit challenging its watered-down requirements under the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) National School Lunch Program.

The lawsuit, which was filed earlier this year by attorneys general from several states, including California and lead plaintiff New York State, claims the Trump administration didn't take the proper steps to amend the rules, which the suit argues contravene the will of Congress. The suit claims the USDA's 2018 actions were not "'consistent with the goals of the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans' [nor] 'based on' the Nutrition Board's recommendations, as required by the School Lunch Act." The suit also alleges the rules are not—as required—based on "tested nutritional research." And it claims the amended requirements "significantly weaken the nutritional requirements for sodium and whole grains applicable to the school lunch" program. 

The Obama administration's changes to the National School Lunch Program, championed by then-First Lady Michelle Obama and adopted in 2012, modified requirements for sodium, whole grain, milk, and fruits and vegetables served as part of the school lunch program. In 2018, the Trump administration rolled back many of those changes. 

"The reforms were announced this week by new USDA Secretary Sonny Purdue under a plan to—honestly—'Make School Meals Great Again,'" I wrote in a 2017 column on the Trump administration's new approach. "That headline should tell you all you need to know about the Trump administration's plans."

Still, the inanity of Trump's plans doesn't mean the changes advocated by First Lady Obama and her husband's administration were any good. "[T]he Obama administration's food is not great food," I noted in 2017. 

I've documented many of the problems with the USDA's National School Lunch Program over the years. In a 2014 column on the First Lady's school lunch reforms, I noted some of the flaws in those efforts: students and school districts fleeing the program in droves, soaring costs, and "unprecedented mountains of food waste." Claims that the quality of food served under the program improved after the First Lady's reforms are dubious, to say the least.

I've also noted many times, including in my recent book Biting the Hands that Feed Us: How Fewer, Smarter Laws Would Make Our Food System More Sustainable, how wresting the program from the USDA and shifting power over school food to local communities could be all that's needed to improve the foods students eat at school and cut down on the massive amount of food waste the problem causes. 

The states sued the USDA last year under the legal theory of parens patriae, arguing that the states are acting on behalf (and representing the interests) of those who cannot speak for themselves; in this case, low-income families and their children who eat school lunches. "The 2018 Rule will expose children who live in the States and eat meals in schools to health consequences to which they would not have been exposed if USDA had not eliminated the final sodium target… and lowered the whole-grain requirement," the suit alleges.

This week's federal government response sought to pour cold water on that theory. As Reuters reported, the USDA argued in its response that "states have no power to sue over new rules they say make school meals less healthy."

Regardless of which side wins, the only sure losers are America's taxpayers and its schoolchildren. Many of the latter will have little choice but to eat the lousy food that's served in most public schools. 

I argued two years ago that walking the school lunch program back a few years is a big idea only to small minds. That hasn't stopped New York, California, and a handful of other states from fighting with the USDA over school-lunch minutiae instead of implementing sorely needed, wholesale reforms to the program.

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  1. My mother always packed my lunch even though we qualified for free lunch. They wouldn’t take a dime. Peanut butter and jelly and the like. Then she took a job a local pizza place, I’d take toasted subs and pizza . I found out if I took extra I could sell the slices to kids who had to eat the school lunch . Sometimes half a sub to a rich kid. It was a great business model. ,lol.

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  2. Could the USA survive without ANY federal involvement in school lunches? Or would all the kiddies starve to death?

    Inquiring minds want to KNOW, dammit!!!

    1. Bingo. Neither schools nor lunches are among Congress’s enumerated powers.

      We need several more Justices willing to hold them to the list in Article I, Section 8.

      1. This. I’ll bet *congresscreatures* don’t get free lu,uh,nevermind.

      2. Nothing is ever within any enumerated anything if you slice it fine enough. Take any legal document, you can always break down practice into fine enough details to say none of them fit it. Like they have the power to raise armies, but where does it say they have the power to supply them with uniforms that have this number of buttons?

        I’m sure you can find in 1:8 things read broadly enough that if you can say they have the power to order uniforms with a number of buttons, you can equally say that USDA can dole out money for this.

        1. Disagree. It is really not hard to understand what the framers had in mind. A small, limited federal government. It needs to be reduced by at least 50%, probably more. The Constitution is basically useless now. Can be made to say whatever the powers that be want it to say. The feds powers are clearly delineated, and there is no place for school lunches, and for interference in public education at all.

          1. “The Constitution is basically useless now.” — There’s nothing “useless” about it.. Ignored by communistic minds; yes. But the playbook is what the U.S. should be and it is the playbook that will keep us from becoming a communistic nation. It is the playbook that will give us life, liberty and individual freedom.

            I’m sure all those Revolutionaries who were willing to put their life on the line (freedom or death!) wouldn’t find your “useless” claim very amusing.

      3. ^”We need several more Justices willing to hold them to the list in Article I, Section 8″ — Perfectly said!!

        There was actually a few “stuck in the mud” congressional bills that required every new bill list its enumerated power. That’s one more item Trumps administration should starting pushing to MAGA.

    2. Kids would starve. The local morons who run our public schools are incapable of figuring out kids need to eat lunch during their all day incarceration. And, since many parents are morons, too, they go along with slop being served their kids.

      1. Not all of them. Some might learn to forage, and others might prey upon the weak. “Hunger” games.

  3. Trump’s school lunch reform? Gotta get that clickbait in there, don’t they? Trump had little or nothing to do with this.

    But, yeah, if your “reform” is anything more than getting the hell out of the way, it’s doomed to failure. And it’s pretty outrageous that you’re allowed to add more rules and regulations to a government program but you’re going to get sued if you try repealing them. What the hell is so precious and sacred about the previous changes to the regulations that somehow any further changes to the regulations are an affront to God? (Other than the obvious fact that Saint Obama was divinely inspired to write the last reform “for the children” and this one comes courtesy of the Dark Lord himself whose appetite for the blood of the innocents will never be satiated.)

    1. Blood libel?

    2. “Saint Obama was divinely inspired to write the last reforms ‘for the children.’”

      Huh. Was that before or after he ordered the murder via drone strike of a group of children eating breakfast?

      Oh wait. Those were not American children, though the primary target was the son on an American—so those children don’t count.

    3. Wrongo! If the action was really labeled ‘Make School Meals Great Again’, then it sure did have something to do with Trump.

    4. The Administrative Procedures Act and related jurisprudence does have that ratchet effect on the executive branch. Once a rule is finalized, it gains a presumption in favor of its having been in accord with its enabling legislation and the facts as found by the agency. That presumption then has to be overcome with more convincing facts if you want to do away with that rule.

    5. You’re describing DACA. Anything decreed by the chosen one is treated like holy script.

  4. The problem with making school lunches great again is they were great, not will they ever be.

    The thing with institutional food is that, besides the ingredients needing to be cheap, it must be appeal to the lowest common denominator. If a full 30% of the diners do not like herbs and spices, there will be no herbs and spices. The food will be super bland.

    It’s the same with coffee. Try to get a good, strong cup of coffee at a chain coffee place. Too many people like weak sauce coffee that’s just brown dish water.

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  6. Is there anything more emblematic of the State as Nanny than government school lunch BS? From flagging some kids as impoverished and deserving of free lunch (is there such a thing?) to arguing about esoteric content and health impacts, these people clearly have taken us to a dysfunctional institutionalized world.

    And the actual kids eating actual lunch? From my retired teacher wife: even first graders learn how to game the system, and will take the recommended/required “healthy food” on their trays, but eat the other stuff they like–and come up with schemes to ditch the healthy stuff.

    1. Kids also trade food. At my kids’ school (where they have to pack lunch from home) teachers prohibit kids sharing food due to allergy fears. But my 9 year old said she trades when “they’re not looking”. Black markets at work.

      1. Free market kids!

    2. Was talking with someone who was a proponent of children “eat everything on your plate before you are allowed up from the table”.

      Try this. Do that. Weigh the family dog before and after.

  7. Wasn’t it the other Obo who personally guaranteed that half of every lunch would end in the trash bin?

  8. More bad economic news.

    Charles Koch current net worth: $58.7 billion

    Although it might seem like Reason’s billionaire benefactor is doing just fine, that number represents a shocking decline of about $700 million this year. Only a Democratic President will implement the Koch / Reason open borders agenda, allowing highly-skilled doctors and engineers to cross our border with Mexico and strengthen our economy.


    1. ” Only a Democratic President will implement the Koch / Reason open borders agenda, allowing highly-skilled doctors and engineers to cross our border with Mexico and strengthen our economy.”

      I’m sure you’re stupid enough to believe that opening our borders to violent criminals, terrorists and people with infectious diseases will only make America a better place to live.
      Thanks for your daily laugh.

  9. Lemme get this straight: A bunch of states are suing the feds to impose more stringent requirements on them? Like they couldn’t achieve this result just by following those more stringent requirements themselves? They have to force someone else to force them? There’s a screw seriously loose here.

    1. Wait, wait, I got it: The legislators of each state want to absolve themselves of responsibility. They blame it on lawyers employed by their own state who sued the feds to force them to do it that way.

    2. This is the salient point, missing from the article.

      There is no chance at all that the states are acting in good faith by suing, because there is no requirement that they not meet the Lady Obama standards. There is more flexibility for states, that is all.

      If the states in question want less flexibility, they can simply implement their own rules which are less flexible. All of which reveals the true nature of the objection. First and foremost, they are opposing anything that Trump does, for no other reason than #Resist! Second, it is revealing of the progressive mentality – they need to control *other people*. It isn’t enough for these progressive state AGs to have authority over their own state, they are moving to seize control over other states.

  10. Here’s an idea that’s long overdue.
    Eliminate public education, have the parents pay for their own kids’ education so they can also pay for their kids’ lunch, or am I asking for the earth, moon and sky here?

    1. Come on. Only the state can motivate and guide people to the good life (or the officially sanctioned politically correct version of the good life). The preceding 200,000 years of human development was an unlikely fable.

  11. “No matter who wins”? Is it a requirement that all Reason articles be rife with Bothsidesism? This is the dumbest yet. Orange Man Still Bad

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  13. “The 2018 Rule will expose children who live in the States and eat meals in schools to health consequences to which they would not have been exposed if USDA had not eliminated the final sodium target… and lowered the whole-grain requirement,”

    Yeh I would like to see proof of this aaannnd… about mind your own fricken beeswax?

    The paternalism and arrogance of someone telling someone else’s kid how to eat is flabbergasting to me.

  14. News flash: bureaucratic government institutions do a mediocre to bad job at everything, almost always.

    Let’s send our kids there. Maybe the damage will be minimal?

    Let’s argue about stupid rules on the margins instead of looking for ways to free us from the failures of government.

  15. The government’s nutritional guidelines are politically driven codswallop, and always have been. From what I can tell, Trump is rolling the changes Michelle Obama presided over largely because of the uproar they generated, with a side serving of ‘stick it in Obama’s eye’. Similarly, the States suing seem likely to be doing so largely because it opposes Bad-Orange-Man.

    If Trump persuaded the company that owns Twinkies to donate the ones that are beyond their sale date, but not dangerous, to inner city schools the kids would be delighted…and the Democrats would have apoplexy.

    But then, if Trump started walking on water and healing the sick and the dead, the Democrats would have apoplexy. And complain bitterly that he was breaching the wall between Church and State. And the New York Times would echo them, completely seriously.

    1. Still wondering why society has been rejecting your preferences throughout your life?

      Stale Twinkies for elementary school students? You figured that was a good idea to state publicly?

      Carry on, clingers. Inconsequentially, until you are replaced.

      1. Are you fricken retarded?
        No. Seriously. Are you?
        You offer sweet fuck all here. So why are you here?

  16. At best, give the money to the states and let them figure out what to feed the kids.
    The Feds have no business determining what is or isn’t good food.

  17. IF the government is going to mandate schools they also need to have some kind of decent lunch provided.

    What is so hard about this I do not understand.

    1. The _federal_ government should not be mandating schools. Nor is it necessary for the school to serve lunch for the kids to get one. I packed a lunch all through school, except when I lived close enough to walk home during a lunch hour.

      As for the poor kids: If they qualify for free lunch, they qualify for foodstamps, which are enough to provide 21 meals a week for the whole family. If the kids don’t get enough food from home, their parents are neglecting them.

  18. “then-First Lady Michelle Obama”

    I think this construction calls for an en-dash, not a hyphen.

  19. Some basic science. Hungry kids don’t learn as well and have more behavior issues, thus if you are not serving them enough (all my kids, including my daughter who eats like a bird) complained about the lack of food under the Obama rules. Obesity is as much if not more about how active you are. Many kids do not get enough recess. When I was in school we had an hour plus of recess, two fifteen minute recesses and a half hour (plus extra if you finish lunch early). When we lived in Anchorage they got one ten minute recess as a Kindergartner, and were in school 6.5 hours, five days a week. My son’s principal called me one time to complain my son was antsy in the afternoon. I asked her “why do you think that is?” Gee I don’t even sit at my desk for 6 hours with only one 10 minute break and a 20 minute lunch break (in class at that). And PE was a joke, they would wait in line for 20 minutes to get the chance to throw a ball once or twice. She didn’t really like me, but then again she was a fairly dimwitted social justice freak and seemed fairly opposed to male students (other parents complained of the same thing). Boys need excercise and like team competition.
    The other problem now a days is to many schools don’t even have real kitchens, everything is premade and reheated. Our current school, the old lunch room director did everything that way (despite new cooking appliances paid for by the community). The new lunch room lady has hired actual cooks who actually cook meals, the kids are so happier (and she allows seconds). My mother also worked in the lunchroom often and they made almost everything from scratch. Anybody in the service will tell you A rations (freshly made food) are light-years better than T-rations (pre-prepared reheated food). Oh and ranch makes everything a little better (ranch was banned as were many other condiments under the old rules, not even on salads, who eats plain salad?). I guarantee the Obama’s never ate the shit they forced kids to eat (and their daughters went to fancy private schools and I doubt they are that slop either).

  20. No i don’t think so

  21. Socialized school lunches = school lunch war? Loss of freedom and forced tax labor?

    Who could’ve seen that coming. As with any “socialized” system. If people can do it for themselves (pack lunches) the government has no excuse/reason to be doing it for them.

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