Revolt in the regulated lunch room

Resistance to the federal school lunch program pushed by First Lady Michelle Obama is growing, as unhappy students turn against the new regime.  Several big school districts have dropped out of the program… one of them in Illinois, the Obamas’ nominal home state.  A nutritional director quoted at EAG News makes the excellent point that the stringent new nutritional requirements might have looked good in planning sessions, but out in the real world they don’t line up with either students’ appetites, or the ability of schools to provide the required products:

???I think we???ve gone too far, too fast,??? Diane Zipay, director of nutritional services for the Westside School District told ???And I don???t think it???s a real-world environment. We might have changed the school but we haven???t changed the child or our world.???

The federal snack rules take effect this year for school districts across the country that participate in the federal free and reduced lunch program. They restrict snack foods sold at schools to those with at least 50 percent whole grain, with low sugar, fat and sodium content. Each snack must also come in under 200 calories, according to the news site.

That means a lot of popular snacks are now off the table, including donuts, brownies, potato chips, full flavor pop, candy bars, and most other foods teenagers prefer. Even salt shakers and packets are now illegal.

Zipay also makes a wise point about the problem with blinding students to the virtues of moderation:

Zipay told the new rules not only greatly reduce the available snack options schools can offer to students, they defy the concept of moderation that???s important for students to learn.

???I want kids to feel like they can have an apple one day and a Snicker???s bar the next. And that???s OK,??? she said. ???You cannot buy a Tic Tac in a Nebraska school, I checked.???

The new snack rules are a continuation of a federal school lunch overhaul in 2010 promoted by Michelle Obama as a means of combating childhood obesity, but instead of making kids healthier, the new regulations are driving a record number of students away from school lunches.

Recent reports show more than 1 million students no longer buy school lunches because of the new restrictions. The regulations are also creating more than $1 billion in food waste annually because students are now forced to take fruits and vegetables they don???t want.

In many cases, public schools have lost so much in lunch sales district officials have opted to forfeit federal lunch funding to serve students foods they???ll actually buy, and eat. Just last week, Illinois??? second largest school districtopted out of the National School Lunch Program, as did two New York school districts, among others.

At Westside High School in Omaha, Nebraska, students who don???t have a regular lunch period often eat from the school???s café, which serves a la carte lunch food. Café manager Jackie Cambridge told KETV finding foods that fit the federal snack rules has ???been just about impossible.???

Zipay told the news site lunch cooks have had the same problem, and can???t even serve a turkey sandwich to students because there???s too much sodium. There is now a two-slice limit on salami.

The Washington Times adds that “48 out of 50 states faced challenges complying with Mrs. Obama’s Health Hunger-Free Kids Act,” according to a recent GAO audit.  “The new standards led to kids throwing out their fruits and vegetables, student boycotts, higher lunch costs, and odd food pairings such as ‘cheese stick with shrimp’ in order for schools to comply with the complicated rules.”  

Another school nutrition director in Kentucky said, “I currently have one lunch entree that meets the a la carte requirements: grilled chicken breast on a whole-grain bun.  But I can’t serve condiments with it.  How many kids are going to eat grilled chicken with absolutely nothing on it?”

It sounds like a parody of what happens when a gang of insulated elite politicians decides to make a political statement with lunch menus, or perhaps like something Dolores Umbridge would impose on the student body at Hogwart’s after they got on her nerves.  I can’t help noticing that the people who designed this program don’t appear to content themselves with eating plain grilled chicken breast on a  whole grain bun for lunch every day.

“They’re just skipping lunch and stopping by the minimart on the way home instead,” Kentucky school superintendent Gene Kirchner told Bloomberg Businessweek.  “And when they do buy a lunch, they go by the trash can and throw half of it away.”  His district sold 30,000 fewer meals last year, prompting them to drop out of the program and give up $200,000 in federal funding – which is less financially devastating than selling meals the students refuse to buy.

Funny how Big Government enthusiasts treat every captive population as a colony of lab rats to be experimented upon, isn’t it?  It never occurred to anyone in the hierarchy that it would be nearly impossible to meet the conditions they were laying down, or that unhappy students and their parents would rebel against such ludicrously strict controls?  (They’re rebelling with quite a bit of gusto, as you can see from the UK Daily Mail’s collection of angry reactions on social media, once the kids got a look at what Mrs. Obama did to their lunch menus and vending machines.)  Tic Tacs and salami are threats to the future of the Republic, are they?

Lunch isn’t just a refueling period for student-bots before they resume downloading information for the rest of the day.  It’s a social event.  Eating has an emotional component – that’s one of those centuries-old bits of common-sense wisdom I guess our central planners will have to re-discover, with the same wide-eyed amazement that infuses the “AMAZING DISCOVERY: MEN AND WOMEN ARE DIFFERENT!” stories the mainstream media produces every couple of years.  It’s demoralizing to rip all of the joy out of food, not to mention the reports of low energy and nerve-wracking hunger coming from students who have lived through the new school-lunch regime for a while.

It’s also not doing much for the emotional health of the people who prepare these meals, some of which are nearly impossible to create in the quantities needed with the labor available – for example, it is noted that whole-grain pasta doesn’t cook properly when prepared in bulk.  The GAO report mentioned one school where “the increased time and effort to prepare fruits and vegetables also led to morale issues when staff saw students throw the fruits and vegetables in the trash.”

That point about the wisdom of moderation is essential.  It’s difficult to stick to a rigid diet plan without any indulgences whatsoever.  The real world is not going to comply with this unpleasant regime – hence the Kentucky students tossing their crappy lunches, going hungry for the afternoon, and hitting convenience stores on the way home.  (One wonders how much overcompensating they might do by overeating once they escape from the Healthy Hunger-Free Gulag, too.  I can just imagine the studies published by befuddled educational bureaucrats in a few years, as childhood obesity gets worse.)  Far better to teach children some personal responsibility, respecting informed choice and individual judgment.  Equip them to make wiser eating decisions throughout their lives, instead of stripping away their agency and teaching them “healthy lunch” means two pieces of lettuce, a block of tofu, and a thin slice of drywall.

This program is teaching kids to hate and resent “healthy lunch,” which is the opposite of what a sensible nutrition program should be doing.  No school lunch program can hope to control the diet of students for more than a small fraction of their lives.  If we want them to eat better, we have to make allies of them – win them over and teach them, as Ms. Zipay put it, that if you have a Snickers bar today, you’d best eat an apple tomorrow.  There must be ways of gently and wisely dealing with childhood obesity that don’t descend into money-wasting zero-tolerance hyper-regulation that was supposed to produce some headline-grabbing immediate reduction in student body fat, but whose “unintended consequence” is a surge of hungry kids tromping into convenience stores and fast-food joints on their way home from school.