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Pizza school lunch

The New School Lunch Standards

For years the USDA school lunch program was horrible. Congress did awesome stuff like declaring pizza a vegetable and allowing pink slime in meals. However, in 2012 the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act debuted. The Act, championed by First Lady Michelle Obama represented the very first major change the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to school meals in 15 years. The historic school lunch changes were built around recommendations from a panel of experts convened by the Institute of Medicine and included best eating practices from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Some of the new lunch rules were making sure that students were offered fruits and vegetables every day, increasing whole grain foods and offering fat-free or low-fat milk varieties. On top of that, the Act included proper portion sizes. Learn more about the newer school lunch standards here.

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Taco school lunch

Kids & Parents Freaked Out Over New School Lunches

After the new school lunch rules were put into place, students and even parents started complaining about the newer food options citing too small of portions and fewer choices that kids would eat. Many students and parents, for example, were up in arms that pizza and fries were no longer a daily choice. Protesting against the new properly portioned meals kicked off big time.

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Spanish rice mush school lunch

#ThanksMichelleObama Media Storm Starts

Although research shows that students are starting to like the new healthier school lunch choices, some kids still aren’t happy — saying that there aren’t enough choices kids actually like and complaining that the school food is prepared poorly, has weird textures and doesn’t taste good. Although Michelle Obama doesn’t control which food items school districts purchase and how it’s prepared, students do blame her because Obama was first in line championing the Healthy Food Act. Now students have taken to social media, posting images of what appears to be insanely inedible lunches, blaming Michelle Obama via the hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama.

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Bun with cheese school lunch

Who is to Blame for Poor School Lunches?

While Michelle Obama was behind the idea that schools should serve healthier food options, she’s not in charge of the specific foods school districts purchase for their schools. She’s not in charge of districts choosing fresh foods or horrid food gone bad. She’s also not in charge of how foods are prepared. Lastly, she’s not in charge of which foods students decide to place on their trays come lunch time. These issues are dependent on the schools and districts and students themselves. For example, some schools buy prepackaged fruits and veggies for students while other schools have partnered with local farms in their areas in order to serve fresher, tastier produce to students. Some schools have enlightened cooks and servers on the staff while others are preparing gross looking lunches, such as the lunches shown throughout this gallery.

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Chicken school lunch

How to Get Involved

If students and their parents want to make a difference in their schools, they need to quit blaming Michelle Obama for poor quality meals and focus more energy on their local school district, creating farm to school programs, advocating for school gardens and making sure school staff is preparing food in a healthy, but still appealing way. As a parent, if you’re not sure how to get involved start with the USDA’s Tools for Schools page which offers topic-specific policy and resource materials to assist schools in meeting the new nutrition standards, plus provides free nutrition education curricula and ideas for preparing tasty, kid-friendly foods. More resources below:

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Parents Must Get Involved

Twitter account, SchoolMealsRock recently tweeted, “Dear #ThanksMichelleObama, It’s time to stop bashing @SchoolLunch,” and has begun posting images, such as the ones above, of lunches served by some public schools. As you can see not all schools are serving slop to kids, although my guess is that these are schools who one, work with local farms and businesses to purchase food and two, parents are likely more involved with what’s happening in these schools. If parents don’t get involved, many schools will see zero incentive to up their school lunch game. Additionally, parents need to talk to their kids about making healthy choices while at school so they’re not just eating grains and meat while ignoring produce. If all else fails, parents can choose to send a healthy packed lunch to school with their kids.

RELATED | How Parents Can Help Change and Improve Toxic Schools

Lead image: lone hot dog school lunch