The Agriculture Department plans to do away with limits on the amount of meats and grains that students can have in their school lunches, following complaints from parents and lawmakers alike.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack informed members of Congress last week that the department would end its practice of limiting daily and weekly consumption levels for those foods. It comes after lawmakers argued that children simply weren’t getting enough to eat under the previous rules, according to Associated Press and other news reports. Dozens of school administrators had also complained that the regulations were hindering their school districts’ ability to plan nutritious daily meals.
“This flexibility is being provided to allow more time for the development of products that fit within the new standards while granting schools additional weekly menu planning options to help ensure that children receive a wholesome, nutritious meal every day of the week,” Vilsack said in a letter to Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.).
The previous guidelines, which were mandated at the start of the school year in September, were intended to address the problem of increasing childhood obesity levels by setting limits on total calories per meal, amount of salt allowed and phasing in the inclusion of whole grain foods. The rules dictated how much of certain food groups could be served and schools were required to offer at least one vegetable or fruit per meal.
Nutritionists and various parents groups praised the new school lunch standards when they went into effect. Others, however, including many conservative lawmakers, labeled them as “government overreach.”
Like we haven’t heard that meme before. When government is funding a program, the officials responsible for its stated outcomes have the right—indeed, the duty—to put rules in place that can help assure accountability and compliance. Nothing wrong with that.
Since the school year began, though, USDA’s revised school lunch rules triggered a wave of news coverage, both in mainstream media and a viral YouTube parody video “We Are Hungry” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IB7NDUSBOo) made by some Kansas high-school students complaining they weren’t getting enough food at lunchtime. The video is actually quite humorous—if somewhat sophomoric (of course)—and features a kid wearing an “I (heart) BEEF” t-shirt who ends up stashing bags of snack foods in his locker, just to make it through the day.