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Bethanne Kim  

The Michelle Obama School Lunch Bill

First, I don’t like the Michelle Obama school lunch bill. There is a huge difference in what the high school linebacker needs – truly needs – to eat and what a scrawny ninth grader who is barely 90 lbs soaking wet needs to eat, and the law doesn’t take that into account.

Second, I am beyond sick of seeing headlines, Tweets, and posts about how “Michelle Obama is Starving Our Kids.”

Well, no, actually, she isn’t. They can bring a lunch from home (bureaucratic busy-bodies interfering with that are something I unequivocally oppose). But more to the point, I actually met the head of lunch services for the local school district and ate one of the middle school meals.

School Lunch, 2014 Style

I understand that the lady I talked to was probably biased because she runs the program, but she also knows all the details about the requirements and a fair amount about how it’s impacting other counties – because she runs the programs.

I was full when I left and there was still food on my plate. I could definitely see how a growing boy might be left hungry, but it’s grossly wasteful to calculate everyone’s calorie intake based on what a growing preteen or teen boy needs and kids can buy more than one entree or meal.

It definitely wasn’t gourmet cuisine, but it was also light years better than any of those Twitter images, etc. that I see floating around attributed to her efforts.

My son actually complains a bit about one particular school lunch – the Honey Seared Chicken. He is VERY disappointed that he can’t have it more often, or find anything as good outside of school! Both of my children strongly want to eat school lunches, and neither complains that they are left hungry, although they do sometimes buy a second entree when it’s something they really love.

What I Learned

Here’s what I learned from that Lunch Lady about Michelle Obama’s school lunch bill: The school districts that are having the biggest problems are ones that had the unhealthiest meals to begin with.  In other words, kids that were used to pizza, chicken nuggets, and grilled cheese with a side of fries every day were going to be very unhappy when they suddenly had to eat healthier no matter what caused it.

The Lunch Lady told me that apples and oranges are the most popular fruit choices and the kids really seem to enjoy them. She also stated that kids in our school district were eating more fruits and veggies now. That is hardly starving them.

Our district has an event every spring where they prepare samples of all the new meals they are considering and kids and families can come and sample them. The ones they like the most, the district makes the next year. (And in case you were wondering, pizza is available all the time, too.) They really spend some time making sure they are providing good choices that the kids will happily eat.


Here’s what this has led me to believe: the school districts with truly crappy meals have them because of choices they have made, not because of the most recent legislation about school lunches. Oppose the law all you want (I do), but at least oppose it for a real reason.

No one can dispute that the original law was flawed. It has been modified and its regulations pushed back several times already. The first time they were forced to get rid of maximum amounts of protein and grains within months of passage because of so very many hungry, complaining students.

In case you were wondering:

I oppose it because it dissuades families from packing side dishes (things their kids might prefer) and just buying the entree. (It costs more to just buy the entree because it isn’t subsidized unless you buy the fruits and veggies with the entree.)

I also oppose it because so many school districts are losing large amounts of money because kids won’t eat the healthier meals. It also makes it impossible to take regional differences into account. Whole wheat tortillas may not be a big deal in New  York City, but apparently they are not accepted in New Mexico.

Clearly, many schools have managed it so it is possible, but equally clearly, this way isn’t working for a lot of schools. And dollars to donuts, those schools are the ones that are smaller or in the worse financial shape to begin with.

So while the goal is laudable, as with so many government initiatives, the implementation and one-size-fits-all approach is the problem.

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