Michelle Obama Takes On Congress Over School Lunch Program

ObamaFirst lady Michelle Obama is taking on Congress after Republican legislators announced a bill last week that would allow some schools to waive participation in the school lunch program known the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The act, which required school lunches to contain less sugar, sodium and fat, and more vegetables, fruits and whole grains, was a major achievement as the first update in decades to rules designed to make school meals more nutritious.

The new standards championed by the first lady have been unpopular with both schools and kids, resulting in over 1 million children opting out of school meals, increased waste as students throw away the required fruits and vegetables, higher meal costs and strange food pairings as schools try to comply with complicated rules. Students have been buying food off-campus or hitting the vending machines to avoid the healthy school lunches, which have featured such odd menu combinations such as cheese sticks with shrimp to meet the daily meat requirement, or crackers and croutons with salad in order to meet grain requirements. Some School Food Authorities (SFAa) have actually added unhealthy food to their menus, such as potato chips or pudding,   in order to meet the rules.

The first lady’s campaign for healthier school lunches is part of her attempts to reduce the epidemic of childhood obesity in the U.S. Congress is presently gridlocked over a number of education issues, including a bill coming up before the House now that would allow schools to apply for waivers that would let them skip the healthy school lunch program. Ms. Obama wrote an op-ed for the New York Times last Wednesday that cited Congress’ efforts to “lower nutrition standards in our schools.” She reminded readers of previous rulings by Congress on government nutrition programs, such as the 2011 decision that tomato sauce on pizza counted as a serving of vegetables.

Ms. Obama, who enjoys at 69 percent approval rating compared to a  rating in the 40s for the President, is not the only first lady involved in lobbying, although she is the first to take on Congress over school lunches. Hillary Clinton lobbied for changes in health care, Roslyn Carter for mental health, Nancy Reagan against drugs and Betty Ford on breast cancer. Even Martha Washington got involved, lobbying Congress on behalf of revolutionary war veterans.

The School Nutrition Association (SNA) is an industry-backed group representing school cafeteria workers that originally supported the standards. They have now turned against them because school districts are losing money on the healthier lunches and students will not eat them. Diana Pratt-Heavner, an SNA spokeswoman, asks how the standards can be called a success when they drive students away from the program.

Waste is cited as a challenge by 48 out of 50 states. The General Accounting Office (GAO) conducted a survey of nutrition directors that included visits to 17 schools nationwide. In each school students expressed dislike for the foods required to meet the standards. In the GAO lunch period observations they saw many students throwing away some or all of their vegetables and fruit. They also noted low morale for cafeteria workers, who saw food thrown in the trash that they had taken extra time and effort to prepare.

Lunchroom costs are also rising as 31 percent of SFA’s report the need for new equipment, such as new ladles and spoons to match new portion size requirements. The increase in lunch prices has caused kids to feel they are being asked to pay more for less food.

The House bill that would give districts the chance to apply for waivers allowing them to skip the healthy lunch requirements was authored by Republican Rep. Robert Aderholt of Alabama. He said that the lunch rules came too fast and go too far for school districts to handle.

A House vote on the healthy school lunch bill is expected after the July Fourth break. As Ms. Obama aggressively takes on Congress over the school lunch program she previously lobbied quietly for, she said she would “fight until the bitter end” to make sure schools offer every child in the country the best nutrition they can have. The Senate’s version of the bill does not include the one-year waiver, and the White House is threatening to veto the House bill.

By Beth A. Balen

Sources:
The Washington Times
Chicago Sun Times
NPR
The Washington Post
CBS News
NBC News
The Wire

7 Responses to "Michelle Obama Takes On Congress Over School Lunch Program"

  1. Brian Tokarski   February 8, 2015 at 8:03 pm

    too busy feeding kids in other countries, or arming militias/rebels. why on earth would we give the kids here a decent size lunch that doesn’t look like it was made in one of those bad tv dinner companies lol.

    Reply
  2. bILL rEDMON   November 18, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    Back when I was a student, in all grades, we had lunches that were cooked in the school kitchen. We had hot plate lunches, or a choice of sandwiches and fruits. The food tasted good and was good for us. Of course that was when school systems spent money on students instead of administrative salaries. I’m not positive, long term memory loss, but I think the schools were run by states and not the federal government. Any how the biggest problem is education is being run from Washington and not the individual states. Give us our schools back and every part of education will improve. Lunches are a part of education as much as writing, which we don’t teach anymore. I guess you all are aware that your child will eventually have to print and not write his own name. If things in the education field were not so pitiful they would allow everyone to laugh all the way to the ignorant asylum. FEED OUR KIDS.

    Reply
  3. Pamela   November 17, 2014 at 6:57 pm

    You cannot say you’re trying to stop child obesity. First of all, contrary to popular belief, not every single kid in America is obese. Secondly, I don’t think school lunches are what’s doing it, honey. Leave the schools and our children alone. If we, as parents, have a problem with their weight, we can handle it just fine. My kids are skinny. So, your school lunches, are they just going to make them tinier? Think before you act, sweetie. The best tip a mother every gave to her child.

    Reply
  4. Freda Shelley   November 17, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    Let Michelle Obama serve these lunches to the white house guests and her family for a period of time. Serve these lunches to congress and see how long it lasts. Besides that, I don’t think Michelle Obama is qualified to make these choices. Leave well enough alone.

    Reply
  5. Pat   November 17, 2014 at 3:06 am

    I have been to a school at lunch time. The picture shown above is NOT the sort of lunches they are served!!! Who do they think they are kidding?

    Reply
  6. Walt   November 16, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    Who is Michelle Obama to tell the students what to eat.

    Reply
  7. William Luepnitz   November 16, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    Let Obama veto a bill giving the students and teachers a choice as to what to eat for their meals. This will just enrage the American students who will all vote Republican

    Reply

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