In 2010, Michelle Obama went to a lame-duck session of Congress with a request: pass a nutrition bill giving the United States Department of Agriculture broad new powers to regulate school lunches. That bill was passed in late December of that year, and the new regulations have started to go into effect, with the predictable results of wasted food and angry, hungry children.
The cinnamon rolls and chili everyone loved from their childhood are now gone. Bands and other school groups can no longer sell candy bars as a fundraiser. The government is mandating everything from portion size to how many tomatoes have to be on a salad.
P.J. Moran, a food service director for a small district in rural Kansas, said wastage has gone up “at least 20 percent” over last year, as students, particularly at the grade school level, cannot refuse anything on their trays — but, of course, cannot be forced to eat it.
At the high school and junior high levels, things are more flexible, but not much. Moran said those students can refuse up to three items on the tray, but must take the fruit and vegetable servings whether they plan to eat them or not.
The district’s principal, Jim Bolden, said that at the beginning of the year, food service put fresh peaches on the students’ trays, only to helplessly watch them be thrown away by students who didn’t want them:
I bet we threw away four boxes of peaches.
The 8th grade class, which had planned — as always — to sell candy bars to fund its class trip this spring, has had to find new ways to fund it as sales of candy bars this year are allowed only during certain hours. Says Bolden:
Next year we will not be able to do any selling of food products at all. Right now we cannot sell from an hour before lunch until an hour after lunch ends.
Not only is the mandated food not popular and often wasted, there also is not enough of it, and students are protesting. Students in one district have released a YouTube video parodying their quest for enough to eat during the day. A Facebook page asks kids to send in pictures of their meager lunches.
According to Livestrong.com, teenagers need between 2,000 and 3,000 calories per day to be healthy, and athletes can need as many as 5,000 calories. But the new regulations limit the intake to just 750-850 calories on the tray. Which, if the food is unpalatable, means the students may not be getting even that much.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) and Rep. Steve King (R-IA) have cosponsored the “No Hungry Kids Act,” which aims to repeal the legislation they say is sending kids home hungry. PJ Media spoke to Huelskamp on September 20, when he called the regulations “the epitome of good intentions gone awry.”
Huelskamp said he got involved in August — in Kansas, school starts in August, much earlier than many other states — when a relative sent him pictures of what was in a school lunch:
One size doesn’t fit all, particularly in the lunchroom. The goal of the school lunch program is supposed to be feeding children, not filling the trash cans with uneaten food. The USDA’s new school lunch guidelines are a perfect example of what is wrong with government: misguided inputs, tremendous waste, and unaccomplished goals. Thanks to the Nutrition Nannies at the USDA, America’s children are going hungry at school.
Huelskamp noted that even the last refuge of the hungry kid — the unlimited school salad bar — is now more or less a thing of the past:
Eight-hundred calories is not going to get you from lunch through football practice. They can’t even have an unlimited salad bar any more because they [the kids] might put too much cheese on it or not have the mandated eight cherry tomatoes.
The amount of protein a child is allowed on their trays is seriously limited as well, according to Huelskamp. He said the current regulations limit servings of protein, which could be anything from a hamburger to a side of beans, to 1.5 ounces two days a week and 2 ounces the other three days.
Huelskamp suggested the administration’s focus is perhaps misplaced:
Obesity is not the number one national security concern like [Michelle Obama] says it is.
It was a sentiment with which Moran agreed:
I don’t really think childhood obesity is because of school lunches. Their aim shouldn’t be at the schools.
Dave Trabert of the Kansas Policy Institute, an independent policy think tank, said much of the problem is traced straight back to government bureaucracy:
It’s really up to parents what their kids eat and the government should not be mandating. It drives up the cost, it strips people of freedom and eliminates local control. The intrusiveness has been growing and recently it’s been indescribable. These things are done by bureaucratic mandate. These are people who cannot be held accountable. I would have to wonder how many of these bureaucrats are having pizza at their meetings.
In a release, King was vehement that these regulations were not helping and were intruding on the rights of parents:
The misguided nanny state, as advanced by Michelle Obama’s “Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act,” was interpreted by (USDA) Secretary (Tom) Vilsack to be a directive that, because some kids are overweight, he would put every child on a diet. Parents know that their kids deserve all of the healthy and nutritious food they want.