Thursday, February 16, 2012

Michelle Obama’s “Improved” School Lunch Program

QUESTION: Will the changes to the Federal School Lunch Program make a difference in childhood obesity?  

Michelle Obama’s campaign to end childhood obesity involves revamping the Federal School Lunch Program based on new USDA Guidelines.  Those guidelines – introduced as "historic improvements" by the federal government – are championed by First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her Let's Move! Campaign and signed into law by President Barack Obama.  The new “rules” for what constitutes a healthy lunch determine what is served in the schools and what students are allowed to bring from home.   

CHECK OUT the following 3 articles on the topic and Blow the Whistle at the end!


A four year old child in Hoke County, NC was forced to eat a school lunch because a government inspector determined her home-made lunch did not meet USDA requirements. 
The child’s mother sent her to school with a lunch consisting of a turkey and cheese sandwich on whole grain bread, a banana, potato chips, and apple juice.  You might assume that the lunch was berated because of the inclusion of potato chips.  This was not the case.

The state's Department of Health and Human Services requires that all lunches served to pre-kindergarten students -- whether from school or home -- meet USDA meal guidelines of one serving each of meat, milk and grain, and two servings of fruit or vegetables. The regulations also state that if meals or snacks brought from home do not meet nutritional requirements outlined in the "Meal Patterns for Children in Child Care," the school "must provide additional food necessary to meet those requirements."

A state inspector assessing the pre-K program at the school said the girl also needed a vegetable, so the inspector ordered a full school lunch tray for her. While the four-year-old would still allowed to eat her home lunch, the girl was forced to take a helping of chicken nuggets, milk, a fruit and a vegetable to supplement her sack lunch.  The child’s mother was billed $1.25 for the “replacement” lunch containing the chicken nuggets. (yes, chicken nuggets).

The student’s mother told the Journal she received a note from the school about the incident and was charged $1.25 for the cafeteria tray, from which her daughter ate three chicken nuggets. The note explained how students who did not bring “healthy lunches” would be offered the missing portions and that parents could be charged for the cost of the cafeteria food, the Journal reports. 

The mother, who lives in Fayetteville, sent a statement to state Rep. G.L. Pridgen (R-Robeson) detailing her complaint. Pridgen says he was shocked to hear it. Pridgen has since learned this is a nationwide practice based on federal guidelines.

An assistant to Pridgen says the girl’s grandmother was also upset and asked, “This isn’t China, is it?”

The mother, who was not identified in the report, expressed concerns about school officials telling her daughter that she wasn’t “packing her lunch box properly.”

The mother says her daughter doesn't like vegetables and - like most four year olds - will only eat them at home under close supervision.

The mother says the girl was so intimidated by the inspection process that she was too scared to eat her homemade lunch. The girl ate only 3 chicken nuggets provided to her by the school, so she still didn't eat a vegetable. 

Tater Tots, French Fries, Pizza…..The USDA’s Answer to the Childhood Obesity

The Obama Administration announced long awaited changes to government subsidized school meals…and promised to increase fruits and green vegetables and reduce salt and fat. 
The initial proposal called for reducing starchy foods like tater tots, french fries, onion rings, pizza  (all very high in salt and fat) from school lunches.  The miniscule amount of tomato paste on a slice of pizza could not be counted as a vegetable.

The food industry retailiated!  They lobbied and won a vote in Congress to block the administration from carrying out an earlier proposal that would have reduced starchy foods like potatoes and prohibited schools from counting a small amount of tomato paste on a slice of pizza as a vegetable. Under the latest rules, potatoes are not restricted, and tomato paste can qualify as a vegetable serving.
The rules were announced by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Michelle Obama at Parklawn Elementary School in Alexandria, Va.  School lunch would contain a serving of meat, whole grain, two fruit/veggies, and milk.  Home lunches would also have to contain these components.
Representatives of the food industry also approved.
“From our perspective, the new rules improve school nutrition, but at the same time give schools the flexibility to serve a variety of foods to meet the standards,” said Corey Henry, vice president for communications of the American Frozen Food Institute. “It’s a balanced approach that meets the goals of everyone involved.” 
The National Potato Council, which had opposed the attempts to limit the serving of potatoes, said that it was pleased with the new rules but that it still had some concerns.
“Despite the fact that Congress said the U.S.D.A. could not limit potatoes in school lunches or breakfast, we still feel like the potato is being downplayed in favor of other vegetables in the new guidelines,” said Mark Szymanski, a spokesman for the council. “It seems the department still considers the potato a second-class vegetable
Earlier versions of the proposal met with political opposition because they would have cut the amount of potatoes served, a move not popular with lawmakers from potato-growing states. It would also have required schools to put more than a quarter-cup of tomato paste on a slice of pizza for it to count as a vegetable serving, an idea food service companies opposed as unappetizing. And the rules would have halved the amount of sodium in school meals gradually over 10 years. (the food manufacturers warned that if sodium was reduced, the “food wouldn’t taste as good.”)
A group of farm state senators, led by Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, blocked those earlier rules. Ms. Collins, who once worked on a potato farm, said the proposal to limit potatoes was overly restrictive.
The American Frozen Food Institute was concerned about the previous guidelines’ restrictions on sodium levels and the amount of tomato paste required to qualify as a vegetable serving.
The institute backed the latest rules, which continue to allow about a quarter-cup of tomato paste on a slice of pizza to count as a vegetable serving.

LAUSD Students Roundly Reject Healthier School Lunch Menu

The Los Angeles Unified School District has received government awards and commendations for the revamping of their school lunch program to meet recommendations to end childhood obesity with new USDA guidelines for the Federal School Lunch Program.
This is the second largest school district in the nation.  They changed their program to include vegetarian curries, vegetarian tamales, quinoa salads, and pad Thai noodles.  Students are throwing their school lunches in the trash can by the thousands. 

Initially, the school banned chocolate and strawberry flavored milk.  Now, the LA  Times reports cartons of plain milk are being thrown away en masse, unopened, along with uneaten entrees.

Participation in the school lunch program has dropped by thousands of students, who are ditching lunch and are suffering from hunger-related ailments.

 The complaints have been heard and the “award winning” district is planning changes to the menu, the Times reports. Burgers and pizza are coming back, and dishes like quinoa salads and brown rice cutlets are out.

The Whistle…Diane Kress’ position:

Every first lady has at least one personal “cause” that she devotes much time and energy to, and can even influence government programs to support.  Michelle Obama chose a very relevant cause:  Championing healthier diet and lifestyle for America’s children to stop the obesity epidemic.

The Federal School Lunch Program has long been under scrutiny for providing funding for school lunches that included full fat chocolate milk, full fat cheeses, high fat ground beef, canned vegetables, fruit canned in syrup, etc.  For many American children, school lunch is the only meal the child eats on a daily basis.  It sounded like a great plan to “improve” school lunch to provide more nourishing food and teach about good nutrition through example.
The preceding three articles show what happened when the plan was implemented.  The first article describes the plight of a four year old whose mom packed a reasonably healthy lunch.  Because it was missing a vegetable (that the child would not eat anyway), her homemade lunch had to be supplemented with school lunch….chicken nuggets.  No where could I find the other foods that were on that tray, but it’s a good bet that French Fries accompanied those nuggets.

Is it the government’s place to determine what you must provide your children to eat , to force food choices that you, as the parent, did not provide….and bill you for this service? 

I can’t see how providing the Chicken nugget lunch is going to curb childhood obesity, can you?

The second article shows how the food industry got its hands into the mix…..lobbying and getting Congress to change the original plan that would have eliminated fries, tator tots, onion rings, and pizza as vegetable choices.  The food industry also reneged on cutting sodium in the foods saying they won’t taste as good with less salt.

Obviously, the original plan to increase fruits and veggies as well as decrease salt and fat is not part of the finalized program.

 I can’t see how counting deep fried, salted starchy potatoes, onions, and pizza sauce as veggies is going to curb childhood obesity, can you?

The third article goes right to the source, the second largest School Lunch Program in the country, a lunch program that received accolades for the great changes they made in school lunch, is going back to fries, pizza, burgers after the “new and improved” health school lunch failed miserably.  Remember, this program was considered the best of the best.

I can’t see how reverting to the past school lunch choices is going to curb childhood obesity, can you?

My position:  Why is it that when Americans think about getting healthy, they immediately think “weird” food choices.  How many children, preteens, teens are going to enjoy their lunch time rice burger with a side of quinoa?  Why not take school lunch….a normal school lunch…and make it healthier. 

All the bread, rolls, breading made from whole wheat or whole grain
Pasta: whole grain
Rice: brown
Fruit: fresh or packed in water/fruit juice
Veggies: fresh or frozen, seasoned for flavor
Meats: lean chicken, beef, turkey, pork, fish….not deep fried
Natural peanut butter
Low fat yogurt, milk, cheese
Pizza with whole grain crust and low fat cheese
Salad or salad bar with light dressings
Oven “fried” replaces deep fried foods

Let’s keep it simple but make it work!  Changing recipes to make them healthier is not rocket science.  Improving school lunch is not about changing everything over to “foreign looking, sounding, tasting” foods.  Most kids are not interested in developing their palate…they want to eat the type of foods they like.  All the “healthy” food isn’t worth a thing if it ends up in the trash.  To say we are providing healthy food is totally different from the children actually consuming the healthy food.

We should focus on food choices kids are accustomed to seeing at lunch….but improve on their nutritional content and composition.  In the student’s eyes, their lunch can still look like typical lunch food favorites, but quietly these foods could be prepared to be lower in carb, salt, fat.  Simple changes would absolutely impact the health of our children, and get them on track for a future of healthier food choices.

Instead of forging ahead as if the revamped National School Lunch program is working...the administration should learn a lesson from the first attempt and make real, effective change a reality.  It’s not as hard as you might think..if the childrens’ health and well-being trumps  outside financial interests.  Lesson learned. 

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