What’s in your school lunch today? Maybe a healthy sandwich, some veggie sticks, and perhaps a treat. Or maybe you got lunch at school, where the menu is different every day. In either case, the goal is to eat a healthy, nutritious meal, right?
Well, in 2010, then First Lady Michelle Obama created the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The Act saw sodium (or salt) and trans fat cut from school lunches while adding fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. We can all agree that kids should not go hungry, but the idea behind the Act was that just because a child is hungry doesn’t mean they should be given fast food or unhealthy foods. High levels of sodium and trans fat early in life have been known to cause heart conditions as kids grow older; the Act was intended to reverse the trend and help kids make better food choices.
This month, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) rolled back these guidelines. What does that mean? It means schools are no longer required to serve only plain milk; they can also serve less-healthy versions like chocolate milk. It also means that schools are no longer required to serve only whole grains, and sodium levels are no longer limited, giving schools the autonomy to choose snacks and meals that are higher in sodium if they so choose.
Why would the USDA roll back measures that were meant to keep children healthy? The School Nutrition Association explained their reasoning: two million children stopped participating in the school lunch program since the restrictions were put in place. They also stated that administrators have struggled to find foods that both meet the nutrition standard set by the Hunger-Free Act and that appeal to kids.
Not everyone thinks this is a good idea, though. The American Heart Association, for example, said that such a rollback could put children’s health in jeopardy. Health experts say that while the number of students eating healthier options might have decreased at first, it’s only a matter of time before students get used to healthier choices. As with any new food, kids might reject it at first, but they usually warm up to things eventually.
What do you think? Did the USDA make the right move? Should they have rolled back the restrictions that made school lunches healthier?