Watch out: There’s a squall brewing in the school soup pot.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s school meal guidelines based on the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 went into effect at the start of the school year.
In mid-September, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., and Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who serve on the House Agriculture Committee, challenged those standards with the No Hungry Kids Act, which in part would cancel the upper limit of 850 calories for lunch.
The Packer’s Sept. 19 coverage from National Editor Tom Karst quotes Huelskamp as saying “The goal of the school lunch program is supposed to be feeding children, not filling the trash cans with uneaten food. ... Thanks to the nutrition nannies at the USDA, America’s children are going hungry at school.”
Students and teachers in the western Kansas town of Sharon Springs made a YouTube music video parody called “We Are Hungry” to protest the new meals.
As of Oct. 4, the video, which starts out with a message that says active kids and student athletes need 2,000 to 5,000 calories a day, had more than 881,000 views.
In late September, students from Parsippany, N.J., to Mukwonago, Wis., staged their own school lunch protests, according to media reports, bringing meals from home instead.
“Other students from Massachusetts to South Dakota have spoken out about the new meals on websites and blogs, and some are brown-bagging it as a boycott to the healthier school meals,” Time magazine reported Sept. 29.
Call me unsympathetic, but what’s so hard about bringing your own lunch in the first place if you don’t like what the school serves?
I understand that it might not be possible for every kid to do that, especially children who come from homes where money is tight and they have to rely on free or reduced-price school meals.
I understand that time and convenience are factors for other kids who buy their meals at school. I understand that allergen bans might prevent some kids from bringing an extra peanut butter sandwich to fortify the school’s menu offerings.
But I don’t understand chucking good produce in the trash.
A Sept. 30 article in the Orlando Sentinel headlined “Schools try to keep kids from tossing out fruit, veggies,” says schools in Florida’s Lake County tried out the new school lunch guidelines last year before they became mandatory. During that time, according to the article, the school district estimates kids threw away $75,000 worth of produce.
So, kids are hungry, but they’re also throwing food away?
I wonder how many salad bars that produce would have stocked.
In all the consumer media complaints about the new standards, however, there are some bright spots.
USA Today’s feature on the “We Are Hungry” video quotes Leah Schmidt, president-elect of the National Harbor, Md.-based School Nutrition Association and director of nutrition services for the Hickman Mills School District in Kansas City, Mo., on produce and the problem of hungry kids.
“Really active athletes may need more than the lunch, but that’s not our normal customer in the school lunch line. Not everybody needs all those calories,” she said.
Schmidt said her school district, which has self-serve bars for produce options, doesn’t limit the amount of fruits and vegetables kids can take.
“That’s probably the healthiest way to add more calories if they’re not getting full at lunch,” she said. “(Students and teachers) love the extra fruits and vegetables. We like the freshness factor of those.”
According to Let’s Move, first lady Michelle Obama’s anti-childhood obesity effort, nearly one in three kids in the U.S. are overweight or obese, with higher percentages in some communities or ethnic backgrounds.
Not all school kids struggle with weight issues or healthy eating, of course.
Nor are all students active in sports or workers on family farms.
There has to be a happy medium somewhere, and if the average kid needs a daily diet of 2,000 calories, an 850-calorie school lunch would be nearly half of that.
Change of any kind can bring stress and frustration, and it takes work to correct poor eating habits and learn to like new or different foods.
As the school year progresses and schools get into the swing of the new standards, let’s hope nutrition workers like Schmidt persevere and help students learn to appreciate fruits and vegetables rather than scraping them off their plates into the trash.
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