Chris Koger, news editor
Chris Koger, news editor
The food fight over what children should be served for lunch at school continues.
 
In recent weeks, the School Nutrition Association, the group that represents the school foodservice sector nationwide, reiterated to members of Congress its opposition to parts of the Healthy Hunger-free Kids Act.
 
That was followed by an announcement from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that students and parents support healthier school meals, based on a series of recent surveys funded by the foundation. 
 
Many of the findings of those surveys, according to the foundation, pick apart some of the School Nutrition Association’s aversion to the act.
 
For starters, 95% of schools across the nation are meeting the healthier meal standards — a key component of which is a mandated half a cup of fruits or vegetables per meal. The legislation also calls for 100% whole grain breads/pasta and cuts in sodium in school meals.
 
Another survey shows that 70% of elementary school foodservice staff and administrators say students like the healthier lunches, and 70% of students attend schools where foodservice staff and administrators say students like them.
 
The problem with forcing fruits and vegetables onto the students, critics say, is that it leads to a lot of food waste and no increase in consumption. 
 
It’s even driving students in the opposite direction of healthy eating, according to Debbie Beauvais, supervisor of school nutition services at three districts in the Rochester, N.Y., area.
 
“Security is turning into a concierge because of fast food trucks pulling up,” Beauvais was quoted as saying to legislators at a meeting on Capitol Hill in June, according to thehill.com. “Kids are texting the local pizzaria and pizzas are showing up at lunch.”
 
Regardless of whether that’s a reaction to the new standards or a continuing problem in Rochester schools, isn’t the obvious response a school policy banning this — or enforcing the policy if there already is one?
 
This sparring will continue, no doubt, as Sept. 30 nears, which is when the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act expires. 
 
And the evidence of an obesity crisis will continue to pile up. On July 9, a group of retired U.S. generals reiterated the danger obesity poses to national security. 
According to their report, “Retreat is not an Option,” nearly one-third of all Americans ages 17-24 are too overweight for military service. 
 
The generals voiced their support for the new school nutrition standards.
 
The School Nutrition Association isn’t asking Congress to scrap all the new healthy requirements, but is asking for flexibility, acknowledging school districts are diverse.
 
That’s a more reasoned approach than what some critics (Republicans, mostly) base their opposition on: the Obamas are forcing their dietary ideals on school children. I’ve seen too many reader comments on coverage of the issue that fall along these lines: “The government can’t tell my kid what they have to eat!”
 
Of course the government can, and has done so for decades. Anyone objecting can pack a lunch for their child. But I’ve had enough school lunches with my kids since the healthy lunch standards were enacted to see that kids, for the most part, like the lunches. Chili, chicken patties and even pizza are still served.
 
I do see food wasted, some of it partly eaten apple halves or oranges, to be sure. But fruits and vegetables were being eaten, and enjoyed. Although I did question offering kiwi halves, labels still on the skin, when most kids didn’t know what they were. On that day in particular, the new standards were a failure, but that’s an opportunity for educating kids about new foods.
 
Back to the School Nutrition Association. I receive their e-mail newsletter every weekday and scan the headlines. Regardless of the official stance on the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, the newsletter seems to champion healthy eating successes at school districts, many of them involving fresh produce and farm-to-school programs.
 
It’s interesting to see who’s advertising with the association, and it’s not a surprise that processed foods are leading the pack. 
 
Pizza, macaroni and cheese and similar foods are frequent advertisers, along with a frozen fruit juice (no sugar added) called SideKicks that hypes its half-cup fruit credit. “Nutrition directors appreciate this fruit credit that never ends up in the trash.”
 
And a recent standalone e-mail advertisement from the association (with a disclaimer it doesn’t “necessarily reflect the views” of the group) touts Kellogg’s products displayed at the association’s annual conference. 
 
In the ad, Kellogg’s invites conference attendees to see the company’s “innovations to nourish tomorrow’s leaders” below a picture of a child holding a small bag of Cheez-its and giving a thumbs up. The e-mail asks attendees to “sample the wholesomeness” of Kellogg’s products. Also pictured are s’mores flavored Krave cereal snack packs, Pop Tarts and Frosted Flakes snacks.
 
Sigh.
 
We’ve got a long way to go.
 
 
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