Weekly Columns

School Lunches Should Be Filled with Nutrition, Not Red Tape

f t # e
Washington, September 26, 2012 | comments

Have you ever wondered how school administrators decide what goes into school lunches? As is the case with most federally-run programs, there’s a thick stack of instruction papers for that. On the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) webpage for the Food and Nutrition Services Department, you can find a copy of the 81-page rule that sets nutrition standards.  According to the School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) analysis and explanation of the latest rule for school lunch nutrition standards, the maximum number of calories a student in grades K-5 can have at lunch is 650. This is the first time in history the USDA has set a calorie cap on students.

The American Heart Association recommends that males aged 9-13 should have 1,800 calories per day, with females that same age just behind them at 1,600. This means your average 5th grade boy that only eats lunch at school will need to get 1,150 calories per day either outside of school hours or by purchasing extra snacks. Those snacks are not covered for children receiving free or reduced lunches.

To that same effect, there have been several media reports claiming that children are complaining they are still hungry after lunch. This is unacceptable, and because this new rule is so overly prescriptive, teachers are left with the challenge of teaching hungry students. Students and teachers aren’t the only ones suffering under this new rule. I have been contacted by a school director in my district that has had to resort to instructing his cafeteria staff to count out how many tater tots each student gets just so he’s in compliance with these new regulations.

At the heart of the issue – like so many issues facing our country today – is a fundamental difference about how much government control we need and how much we trust our parents to educate their children about nutrition.  Those who advocated for and passed this change – including President Obama and many Democrats in Congress – believe that government needs to regulate people’s individual behavior and choices.  This goes right down to the type of food schools choose to purchase and how much of that gets distributed to the kids in their care.

I trust parents and administrators, who work hard every day to take care of kids, to make good decisions about how much food our children eat and what food is served.  That’s why I am a proud cosponsor of H.R. 6418, the No Hungry Kids Act. This legislation, introduced by Representatives Steve King and Tim Huelskamp, would repeal the calorie cap that was included as part of the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization passed by the previous Congress. 

As a physician, I certainly understand the need to ensure our children and grandchildren are getting nutritious lunches. According to the Centers for Disease Control, childhood obesity has tripled in the last thirty years. We must teach our children the importance of healthy eating habits and develop a new culture in our youth. Children should be encouraged to lead more physically active lives, educated on the importance of eating healthy, and presented with choices and opportunities that foster health education.  I will work with those who want to empower parents to help their children choose a healthy lifestyle.

f t # e