By Melinda Carstensen
Should schools be allowed to opt out of certain school lunch nutrition standards?
Public schools have argued the standards set in 2012 are too costly and are wasteful. One school district in Alaska transferred $135,000 from its education fund to afford the mandates, according to a report from The Hill.
However, supporters say the program has gotten a bad rap and allowing schools to opt of standards meant to encourage children to eat healthfully would be a mistake.
The healthy-lunch program is an outgrowth of Michelle Obama’s anti-childhood-obesity campaign. Standards require public school cafeterias to serve whole grain-rich, lean meats, low-fat and low-sodium foods, in addition to fruits and vegetables.
In a private conference call that included the first lady before the House vote took place, the Washington Post reported Obama took an aggressive tone and vowed to fight any attempted rollback of her signature initiative. Pending legislation in Congress would allow schools to apply for waivers from the standards.
The aim of the healthy-lunch program was to help curb childhood obesity rates, and has been implemented at more than 90 percent of schools nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, schools in New York and Illinois, for example, have argued the requirements aren’t only expensive but ineffective as well.
"Forcing students to take a food they don't want on their tray has led to increased program costs, plate waste and a decline in student participation," the School Nutrition Association (SNA) wrote in a statement.
The SNA, which represents school food administrators, has estimated roughly 1 million fewer students participated in the school lunch program last year — due in part to the fed’s rules.
· Is flexibility needed to continue healthy-lunch requirements at our public schools? Or is the program working as it should be?
"The House bill would undermine the effort to provide kids with more nutritious food and would be a major step backwards for the health of American children, just at the time childhood obesity rates are finally starting to level off,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement last week. “(The) USDA has continued to show flexibility in implementing these new standards, and Congress should focus on partnering with the USDA, states, schools, and parents to help our kids have access to more healthy food, not less."
A recent editorial in the Washington Post reviled waivers, and credited the decline in school lunch participation to fewer people paying full price, “not truly needy students going without subsidized meals.”
“If wealthier families want to feed their children other things with their own money, fine,” the Post writes. “Their choices should not be used as pretext to demand anything less than reasonable, healthy foods in publicly supported cafeterias.”