When it comes to school lunches, seemingly no one can win. For years the USDA school lunch program was horrible — Congress allowed schools to serve unhealthy portions, foods packed with sodium and even went so far as to declare pizza a vegetable and let pink slime meat be served to kids. Students didn’t love the lunches and neither did parents. Then in 2012 the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, championed by First Lady Michelle Obama was introduced. This healthy Act represented the first major change to school meals in 15 years. Yet still no one was happy. Students rebelled and their parents and some teachers joined in saying kids didn’t like healthier food and that the schools were still doing a poor job preparing meals. As time went on, a study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that even though the kids initially complained, students were starting to like the healthier school lunches. However, not all kids, schools or parents were represented by the study apparently. School food workers have still been complaining about the breakfast and lunch standards, plus #ThanksMichelleObama, a hashtag used to showcase bad school lunches has gone viral. In light of ongoing complaints, that likely exist due to poor food preparation and because kids are so used to junk food instead of healthier options, Congress has decided to scale back some of the regulations.
A new spending bill unveiled this week has halted the existing limits on sodium and allows states the right to waive whole grains standards for schools that are struggling. Patricia Montague, chief executive of the School Nutrition Association, which represents school food workers tells The Wall Street Journal that the school meal regulations “were well intended, but have resulted in unintended, adverse consequences.” The new Act requires schools to serve more produce and whole grains, while limiting excess sodium and fat. While these changes sound healthy, many in charge of purchasing food for school lunch programs say the regulations are too costly and that students don’t like healthy food, and toss produce in the trash. The adjustments by Congress make sure that not all schools have to follow the regulations to the letter and it’s assumed the adjustments will save schools money as well. However, with childhood obesity rates continuing to skyrocket, it seems a poor choice on the part of Congress to cut any healthy school meal regulations. Plus, as almost everyone with a kid knows, it takes time for kids to get on board with healthier options, especially if said kids are used to pizza and fries day in and day out.
The fact that Congress isn’t allowing more time for schools and kids to learn to like the healthier options is insane. The focus here should be on how school food workers can learn to prepare healthy foods in a more appealing way, and how schools can receive more funding for fresher healthy options. Schools should not simply slide back to more sodium and fewer whole grains served just because it’s cheaper and kids complain about change. Most kids complain about food at one time or another. Congress and schools need to show kids that healthy food is a good choice, not allow students to bully them into unhealthy choices. It’s time for the adults in charge of our kids’ school meals to realize that kids don’t always make healthy food decisions on their own. Adults need to act like adults and help kids make better choices.