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Washington Examiner


Banned Brownies Isn't The Only Problem In School Lunches

December 29, 2010

By David Gratzer

Two weeks ago, President Obama signed the “Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act” into law. Although this legislation makes both legislators and parents feel good about the government taking charge and providing much needed improvement to school lunches, it fails to acknowledge that the falling standards surrounding school lunches were Washington’s responsibility all along.

Under the Carter administration, standards were set to supposedly ensure that foods sold in schools had at least 5 percent of an essential nutrient, like protein or calcium. Yes, that’s right - there really are strict regulations in place. And, from a distance, they seem reasonable, banning the sale of “foods of minimal nutritional value.”

Notice that candy bars, salty snacks, sodas, pizza, and French fries are all meeting that minimal-nutrition standard.

What about fat? Sodium? Calories? Carter standards have done nothing to limit them.

And, of course, there are loopholes. The end result is a donut can be sold in your daughter’s high-school cafeteria, but not a lollipop. Breath-mint? No — not enough nutritional value. Cookies are okay, though.

On this we can all agree: public school lunches are an embarrassment. And, for that matter, unhealthy.

For all the talk in Washington of finally regulating schools into better food choices — the core purpose of the child nutrition bill that the President signed into law earlier this month — a bit of sore news during this sweet holiday season: the federal government has been in the business of micro-managing our children’s lunches for 30 years.

The people busy subsidizing corn production and talking up the consumption of cheese (paying for a $12 million ad campaign for Domino’s new line of cheese-heavy pizzas), will now be charged with better regulating the school-lunch programs they’ve been negligently regulating for 3 decades.

Add in the fact that millions of kids’ meals are federally sponsored with the school lunch program, meaning that the unhealthy food served often receives a double subsidy (to agribusiness and then to schools). Taxpayers are paying and paying again.

With rising rates of childhood obesity, Washington has been regulating and subsidizing a new generation of diabetics.

And don’t assume for a moment that congressional oversight has been lacking. In fact, the legislation enabling the school lunch program is renewed by Congress every five years.

Liberal groups cry foul, suggesting that this process is heavily influenced by lobbyists carving up the billions of dollars at stake in the setting of nutritional standards. But then, ironically, they collectively champion a dubious idea: heavier regulations from Washington.

Those groups have influenced the Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate into crafting legislation that would create a heavy hand if there ever was one.

The Department of Agriculture now gains oversight over much of everything food related in schools. Even bake sales.

Some conservatives have focused on the bake-sale provisions — at a time of war, with record deficits, it seems that there is nothing better to do in Washington than go after your local high school’s efforts to raise money for the band or the gym team. But the Bad Brownie Ban is the least of our problems.

It’s not the future of the dessert table that’s at stake. It’s the millions of meals served to our children, and their resulting health.

We need a sensible solution here. That’s not to totally dismiss the entire child nutrition bill, but it to suggest that we need a more commonsense — a less Washington heavy — approach.

An alternative? Go local.

Some schools have been unusually innovative. In St. Paul, Minnesota, for example, schools opt for healthier options in the cafeteria, like home-made breads. How to replicate this on a national scale? States could offer voluntary guidelines, and then publish lists of complying and non-complying schools — a move that would ultimately empower parents, not Washington bureaucrats.

And that would be a big fat deal.

Original Source:



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