I don’t remember a lot about 2nd grade, but the one thing I do remember was what happened everyday at 10am: the milk came. Each day our class got to take a milk break and each student was given a carton of milk. We even got to choose white (whole) milk or chocolate. Today the more than 32 million students in the US, who consume at least half of their meals at school, cannot get whole milk or chocolate milk. In fact under new guidelines being imposed by the USDA, there is a growing list of food that children cannot get at school. In the interest of forcing children to eat “healthy,” many are going hungry.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, championed by first lady Michelle Obama, has resulted in new school food guidelines that limit student choices in an effort to provide a healthy diet. The new guidelines “Ensure students are offered both fruits and vegetables every day of the week; substantially increases offerings of whole grain-rich foods; offer fat-free or low-fat milk varieties; limit calories based on the age of children being served to ensure proper portion size; and increase the focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium.” While the new guidelines have lofty sounding goals, the result is large amounts of food being wasted; many students going hungry; and, in some cases, school performance suffering.
Iowa Congressman Steve King and Kansas Congressman Tim Huelskamp have introduced the “No Hungry Kids Act” which repeals the USDA rule that created the new standards, prohibits the USDA’s upper caloric limits, and protects the rights of parents to send their children to school with the foods of their choice. Charges Congressman King, “For the first time in history, the USDA has set a calorie limit on school lunches. The goal of the school lunch program was- and is- to insure students receive enough nutrition to be healthy and to learn. The misguided nanny state, as advanced by Michelle Obama’s ‘Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act,’ was interpreted by Secretary Vilsack to be a directive that, because some kids are overweight, he would put every child on a diet. Parent’s know that their kids deserve all of the healthy and nutritious food they want.” “The goal of the school lunch program is supposed to be feeding children, not filling the trash cans with uneaten food,” said Huelskamp. “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.”
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids guidelines base portion sizes on age and on not the actual needs of each student. As a result, some students do not get enough food while other have too much. In addition, the elimination of many meat-based protein foods, especially on the school breakfast menu, is leaving students hungry during the day. According to King, “Reduced carbohydrates and meat portions are leaving children so hungry that by the end of the day, parents meet their children at school with snacks just to get them home or to sports. Moms and dads around Iowa are frustrated with the ‘one size fits all’ program that leaves their kids starving at the end of the day. These kids are simply not getting enough to eat, and they are expected to function throughout a school day and participate in sports and extracurricular activities on empty stomachs. Healthy, active kids need all the nutritious food they want.” The new “calorie maximums” are broken down in three categories: grades K-5, grades 6-8 and grades 9-12. For a student in the sixth grade, the federal government recommended a lunch of a minimum 785 calories last year. This year, that same sixth-grade student will be fed a maximum of 700 calories.
Parents who might want to send extra food with their students are, in some schools, being prevented from doing so. In one Chicago school, parents who attempted to send snacks with their children were told they could not because those foods were unhealthy. Secretary Vilsack and the USDA have become diet dictators in the nation’s schools. While obesity is a serious issue, the heavy-handed and nutritionally biased efforts by the USDA and the Obama administration are the wrong approach.
Teaching students to make good and balanced choices when eating food should start in the classroom, not in the lunchroom. Actually it should start in the kitchen at home; but, unfortunately, many parents today have abdicated their responsibilities to the public school. So, how about teaching students at an early age about the differences in food and how it works in their bodies? And, putting recess back in the school day will do more to curb childhood obesity than serving them tofu at lunch.
By Gary Truitt