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May 30, 2014

Healthy school lunch menus spark political food fight

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First Lady Michelle Obama has made combating childhood obesity a priority since her husband took office six years ago. But recently, the Healthy Hunger-Free Act that she championed in 2010 is getting criticism from some school administrators and Republicans in Congress who say that the healthy food requirements have led to burdensome costs and more food in the garbage cans.

The act came into effect in 2010 and focuses on getting schools to limit the amount of fat, sugar, sodium in foods.

In a debate about an upcoming agriculture bill in the House of Representatives, Alabama Republican Robert Aderholt said schools are trying to meet the standards, but they need more time to figure out how to make kid-friendly food that is lower in fat, sugar and salt. He argued in favor of allowing schools to apply for 12-month waivers.

“[The act] is causing a lot of districts nationwide to struggle to meet their financial requirements and also to serve meals that the students are finding palatable. Specifically, we’re having issues with whole grains, with the sodium targets, and also with the potential rulings on smart snacks that’s coming down,” said Jon Dickl, director of school nutrition for the Knox County Schools in Knoxville, Tennessee.

But the first lady is fighting back. “The last thing that we can afford to do right now is play politics with our kids’ health, especially when we’re finally starting to see some progress on this issue,” she said this week.

The waiver measure is expected to win approval in the House, but is unlikely to pass in the Democratic-controlled Senate.


Warm up questions
  1. First Lady Michelle Obama has championed reducing childhood obesity. What can students, parents and schools do to lower the rate of obesity among children? Explain your answer.
  2. If you had to rate your school food on a scale of 1-10 (1 being the worst and 10 being the best) what score would you give it and why?
  3. Have you noticed a change in the type of food your cafeteria serves in the last few years? How is it different?
Discussion questions
  1. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act requires more whole grains and fresh fruits to be served in school cafeterias. Why do you think these changes were made?
  2. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act limits the amount of fat, sugar and sodium (salt) school cafeterias are allowed to serve. Which foods does this affect?
  3. Do you think the requirements for healthier school lunches are good for students? What are the pros and cons of the program?
  4. What might be some costs of implementing the new healthier school lunch rules?
Writing prompt

Examine the FDA’s “Before/After Elementary School Lunch Menu” and briefly summarize how the menu choices are different. Hint: Think about the differences in terms of what is being served and how much is being served. Using examples from the chart and your knowledge of healthy food, create a dream lunch (cost is not an issue.)

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