Schools Seek Relief on Lunch Program

Former First Lady Michelle Obama's national school lunch program launched in 2010 has been maligned for years by reports of students refusing to eat the meals while schools struggled to meet the standards.  Earlier this year, a GOP congressman even asked the Trump Administration to do away with the program altogether.  But now, the nation's cafeteria workers are raising their concerns about the program with the new administration.

The School Nutrition Association, a group representing some 54,000 school cafeteria workers, has sent a letter to the Trump Administration asking for changes to the Obama school lunch rules.  Spokeswoman Diane Pratt-Heavner says they agree with many aspects and goals of the program, but are having issues with a couple of items in particular.  "School nutrition programs have struggled with a few of the rules, like the more restrictive sodium limits that are coming up next year," she says.  The rules requiring only whole-grain products have also been an issue.  "Getting kids to eat some of what I'll call whole-grain specialty items--whole grain tortillas and biscuits--has been a real challenge."

Essentially, trying to meet the strict standards in the Obama program has resulted in schools spending more money on foods that children won't eat.  That leads to wasted money and wasted food.  "We're just a little concerned that the current regulations are causing a lot of kids to turn up their nose and decide not to eat a school lunch," says Pratt-Heavner.

The bottom line, according to Pratt-Heavner, is the schools want to give kids healthy meals--but they should be able to do it without strict one-size-fits-all federal standards.  "It would be helpful if the school nutrition professionals had a little bit more flexibility in menu planning, so that they can make healthy meals that appeal to the kids in their community," she says.

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