Some parents complain about healthier school lunches, but USDA says it’s on course to improve public health

A few school districts in other states are opting out of a federal-funded school lunch program that was touted by first lady Michelle Obama to provide healthier options to students, and some parents in Harlan County are complaining about the new menus. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which runs the National School Lunch Program, says the naysayers are in a small minority and the healthier fare will become more popular and improve public health.

That is backed up in a study forUSDA’s Economic Research Service of 2005, showing that “Students in schools that offered greater quantities of fruits and vegetables consumed more of these foods by most measures.” During the 2012-13 school year the lunch program increased servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat milk, while setting standards for calorie content and reducing intakes of sodium and trans fat. Students are allowed to eat as much fruit and vegetables as they want. The full report can be read here. (USDA graphic)

Districts from Kentucky to Illinois to New York have complained that students aren’t interested in the healthier foods, leading students to buy fewer school meals, which costs the school districts who rely on federal reimbursements. But the number of districts opting out could be minimal. The School Nutrition Association “found that 1 percent of 521 district nutrition directors surveyed over
the summer planned to drop out of the program in the 2013-14 school year
and about 3 percent were considering the move,” Carolyn Thompson reports for The Associated Press. There were 31 million students in the program in 2011.

So many students and parents have complained in Harlan County that the school board held a special meeting to address the issues, Mark Bell reports for the Harlan Daily Enterprise. “Complaints ranged from not being fed enough to food received not being good enough. While fruits and vegetables are offered freely and students can take
their fill of those, meats and carbohydrates will continue to be served
in limited portions only, so students complain of not getting enough

In Spencer County, there were no complaints about the food, just a price increase of 10 cents for lunches, to $2.30 ($2.45 at the high school) that school officials attributed to the 2010 federal law. District Director of Operations and Transportation Brett Beaverson wrote in a school-board agenda item, “The logic behind the mandated increase is to eventually
equal the difference between the reimbursement rate ($2.86) and the
full-pay lunch price.” Malloy Bilger reports for the Magnet, “Beaverson said failing to pass the increase would make it appear that the federal government was subsidizing full-pay lunches.” (Read more)

Overall, schools are getting healthier, according to a report released Monday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 2006, “the percentage of districts that required schools to prohibit offering
junk food in vending machines increased from 29.8 percent to 43.4
percent . . . and the percentage of districts with food
procurement contracts that addressed nutritional standards for foods
that can be purchased separately from the school breakfast or lunch
increased from 55.1 percent to 73.5 percent.” states the CDC. “Between 2000 and 2012, the percentage
of districts that made information available to families on the
nutrition and caloric content of foods available to students increased
from 35.3 percent to 52.7 percent.” (Read more)

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