By Casey Domski
In 2010 Michelle Obama endorsed the USDA implemented program the federal healthy lunch program under the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act,″ which forced schools across the country to cut portion sizes and offer healthy meals to students in an effort to fight the rising epidemic of childhood obesity. Three years later, childhood obesity is still on the rise, students are unhappy, and schools are now dropping the program.
The new program requires that all school lunches include whole grains, fruits, and vegetables as their main focus. For example, a school’s pizza lunch must now feature pizza made with whole grain crust and low-fat cheese served with a side of fresh fruit rather than a side of french fries. The new restrictions also limit the amount of calories cafeterias are allowed to dish out to students. Under the new rules high school lunches must be no more than 850 calories, middle school lunches no more than 700 calories and elementary school lunches no more than 650. Before, there were no maximums.
According to a report on nydailynews.com “schools around the country are dropping out of the healthier new federal lunch program, complaining that so many students turned up their noses at meals packed with whole grains, fruits and vegetables that the cafeterias were losing money.” One school reported as much as a 10 to 12 percent drop in lunch sales, translating to $30,000 loss under the program in just last year.
With many schools already suffering huge budget and funding cuts, these losses are detrimental to many schools that rely on the revenue from the school lunch program. So in other words, now we are not only depriving our children of art, music, and physical education programs, we are now also depriving them of a lunch that they actually want to eat.
The school districts themselves are not the only ones suffering from the failure of the new lunch program; students are suffering as well. If students are refusing to eat their lunches, they are now going nearly eight hours without any form of nutrition, which leads to a lack of attentiveness and effects learning. According to an article on nytimes.com more than 1,200 high school students joined a Facebook group boycotting one New Jersey High School’s new school lunches. Students complained that the lunches are “healthier, smaller and more expensive than ever.”
However, not everyone sees the program as a failure just yet. Dr. Janey Thornton, deputy undersecretary for USDA’s Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, which oversees the program said despite schools dropping the program it is still providing long term benefits to our youth.
“The vast majority of schools across the country are meeting the updated meal standards successfully, which is so important to help all our nation’s children lead healthier lives,” said Thornton.
Michelle Obama herself also still supports the programs saying “Because of this act . . . 32 million children get more of the nutrition they need to learn and grow and be successful and I do hope it’s delicious — we’re working on that, yes, indeed.”
As an article on cbsnews.com explained, the program is “a step in the right direction, but one that tried to go too far, too fast.” Most schools lunch programs had already met the USDA nutrition guidelines before the federal healthy lunch program was introduced in 2010. This shows that with a little planning on the schools part, cafeterias can offer meals that are not only healthy but also appealing to kids.
It is also important to note that most eating habits are
formed at home. So rather than cracking down on schools, who were already providing healthier options for the students who wanted them, we need to turn our focus to the ongoing fight at home. We need to be encouraging families to educate their children about moderation and healthier choices for a lifetime of healthy nutrition, not just at school lunchtime.