On Thursday, U.S. regulator dished out relaxed school meal rules designed to combat childhood obesity by limiting in calories and portion sizes. The move made permanent temporary rules changes adopted two years ago.
Before the decision, USDA lifted its strict limitations on caloric intake of grains and starches, as well as protein, but only for the 2012-2013 school year. The move gave significantly more flexibility to schools and students, especially athletes.
The healthy lunch rules had initially been adopted in 2012 as part of a law designed to improve school breakfasts and lunches, called the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. About $4.5 million was allocated in order to provide better food options at schools over the next decade.
The modifications were aimed at limiting fat and salt, reducing portion sizes and increasing fruit and vegetable servings. For kindergarteners through fifth graders, their meals were capped at 650 calories. Sixth through eighth graders were allowed 700 calories per meal, while high schoolers got 850.
However, some students complained that the meals weren’t filling, nor were they appetizing.
Some schools announced in Aug. 2013 that they were leaving the National School Lunch Program, which pays schools for the meals they serve and sells them lower-priced items. They said many kids were opting not to skip lunch because they didn’t like the healthier options, leading to greater financial losses among other negative downsides.
“I don’t think there is any question that all of us want our children to eat nutritious foods, but the USDA rule contains impractical and unrealistic standards that leave students hungry and are cost-prohibitive for schools to comply with,” Sen. Jerry Moran said of the change. “School lunch program decisions should be made in schools at the local level – not mandated by the government in Washington, D.C. This decision is good news for parents, school budgets and food suppliers. Unfunded mandates like this one were making it even harder for schools to provide healthy meals to our kids.”
It is easy in Washington, D.C., these days to toss around the phrase “unfunded mandate” and raise a furor. It is also a nice idea to allow more local control.
However, despite all the political posturing, on thing remains – childhood obesity continues to be a major health problem in America. We can only hope that this crisis is still considered when local school districts plan their meals.
We don’t want a bunch of hungry students languishing by the end of the day, but we can’t stuff their bellies with starchy, high carb foods that happen to be cheaper and more convenient.
Granted, it is not only the government’s responsibility to encourage healthful eating habits. Parents, too, should shoulder the onus.
But, when serving our youth, our officials must take their health and wellbeing under consideration.