If the federal government gets its way, critics are warning, school lunches will be more expensive and less appetizing and ultimately will leave school districts footing the bill for costly food going down the garbage disposal.
Under regulations proposed this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would have the final say on what students eat. Educators fear the guidelines, trumpeted by first lady Michelle Obama and others as a key to curbing childhood obesity, will take a huge bite out of school budgets while resulting in “healthier” meals that make youngsters turn up their noses.
“Under the proposed rule, school meals would become so restrictive they would be unpalatable to many students,” said Karen Castaneda, director of food service at Pennridge School District in Perkasie, Pa.
For example, Ms. Castaneda said, the proposed sodium restrictions for student lunches resemble diets previously reserved for those battling serious illnesses such as kidney disease. The rules also would require students to eat more fruits and vegetables, forcing schools to serve extra apples and broccoli even if experience shows that children can’t - or won’t - eat them.
Breakfast programs are especially worrisome.
“The proposal will double the fruit serving … [and] would add a required meat serving daily,” said Sally Spero, food planning supervisor for the San Diego Unified School District. “Nothing is achieved when money is spent on food that children won’t even be able to consume and nothing is more disheartening … than to see perfectly good and perfectly untouched food thrown into the trash.”
The regulations would also require schools to spend more money for fresh fruits and vegetables. Many districts now serve cheaper canned fruits or frozen vegetables.
Administration officials say they have no interest in becoming what one called “the cupcake police,” and noted that educators, parents and the general public had been given time to comment and suggest changes. The public comment period ended April 13, and all suggestions will be analyzed and possibly incorporated into the final version, the Agriculture Department said in a statement Friday to The Washington Times.
What the government sees as a drive for more nutritious meals, some in the states see as an unfunded mandate from Washington.
Ms. Castaneda said her district’s food budget, including breakfast and lunch programs, would increase by $111,234 under the guidelines taking shape. Federal school lunch program reimbursements would cover $32,460, leaving the Pennridge district little choice but to raise lunch prices to come up with the remaining $78,774.
“Our concern is that the proposed regulation may result in having the opposite effect to that which it desires, driving up costs and driving children … out of the program,” said Barry Sackin, owner of B. Sackin and Associates, a consulting firm specializing in school nutrition.
Many of those issues received an airing at a House subcommittee hearing last week at which Mr. Sackin, Ms. Castaneda and Ms. Spero all testified. Some House Republicans have raised questions over whether the Obama administration has overstepped its authority in trying to dictate nutritional and other values for local school lunch programs.
While supporting healthy food for students, Mr. Sackin said, the proposed rule strives for perfection by sacrificing the “very good.”View Entire Story
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
Ben Wolfgang is a national reporter for The Washington Times. Before coming to the Times, he spent four years as a political reporter in Pennsylvania. His focus is on education and science policy. Ben lives in southeast D.C. and has played guitar in several bands while still in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
The young drop coverage to avoid higher premiums
Independent voices from the TWT Communities
In a world that is increasingly complex, we need to seek greater awareness of the blending of cultures and America's changing role in a global community.
A look at what’s new and what’s worth driving, no matter the budget.
Finding health and health care is not easy. It is changing. Know what's on the rise.
Television commentary, reviews, news and nonstop DVR catch-up.
Benghazi: The anatomy of a scandal
Vietnam Memorial adds four names
Cinco de Mayo on the Mall
NRA kicks off annual convention
California wildfires wreak havoc