Trump Administration Loosens Nutritional Guidelines for School Lunches

CC BY 2.0. US Dept. of Agriculture – A cafeteria worker tops up the roasted chicken at a school in Virginia

Agriculture secretary is worried that kids aren't eating what they're served. So the solution is to offer more junk?

The Trump administration has announced that it will permanently loosen the nutritional guidelines for school lunches. The controversial final rule set to be published this Wednesday comprises three main changes.

First, students will be offered the option of flavored, low-fat milk instead of the white milk only rule instituted by the Obama administration. Second, only half of grains served will need to be whole-grain, allowing schools to serve more white bread, pasta, and biscuits. Third, the three-part sodium reduction plan that Obama implemented is being changed. The second phase is delayed and the final target is being eliminated.

The Trump administration justifies the changes by arguing that kids aren't eating the healthier lunch choices, and that loosening the nutritional standards will encourage kids to partake. Participation in school lunch programs has declined, dropping from 5.2 million students in 2010 to 4.8 million in 2017. Agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement, "If kids are not eating what is being served, they are not benefiting, and food is being wasted."

The School Nutrition Association sides with Perdue. Its president Gay Anderson said,

"We appreciate Secretary Perdue for finding solutions to address the concerns of schools and students. This rule will entice more students to eat healthy school meals, which meet calorie limits and offer fruits, vegetables and milk."

The changes are referred to as 'meal flexibilities' by the administration, but this angers the American Heart Association. The AHA stated,

"When it comes to our children’s health, there should be no 'flexibility'... If the concern truly was to provide those few schools experiencing challenges with more ‘flexibility’, the more responsible approach would have been for USDA to provide more technical assistance to these institutions so they could offer healthier food choices."

In other words, helping school cafeterias to become more than just freezers and microwaves, which is their current sad state. To be honest, I don't blame kids for lacking enthusiasm about school lunches. They're bland and boring. Boosting the salt and refined carb levels may encourage more kids to graze on junk, but it's not going to fix the problem; improving the freshness and flavor would, though.

This ruling seems pathetic next to the national gourmet lunch programs run by countries such as Japan and France, where the education of children's palates is viewed as a priority on par with book-learning and is actively taught by teachers. Students participate in food preparation, service, and cleanup, while learning a respect for mealtime that makes the mass feeding experience of the American cafeteria look utterly barbaric in comparison.

I can't help but wonder, who's the educator here? Why are kids' wildly irrational palates allowed to dictate what's served and what is not? Kids should not call the shots when it comes to choosing what to eat, especially when their physical and mental health is at stake. But they need to be taught to appreciate good food, as children in other countries are. Clearly the U.S. needs a new approach, not junkier food that will only exacerbate the public health epidemic already afflicting the nation.