GOP lawmaker wants USDA to take 'nutrition nanny state challenge'

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) is challenging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish healthy, lower-calorie menus for its own cafeterias, to match the healthy food requirements that USDA has established for the nation's schoolchildren.

"If the USDA demands that 100,000 school districts change their menus and justifies this mandate because schools receive federal money for lunches, then taxpayers should demand that the USDA cafeteria meet the same standards as USDA operates in taxpayer-funded buildings," he said.

"Let's see if they eat enough to function. Let's see if they like having choices taken away from them."

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Huelskamp challenged the USDA to take the "nutrition nanny state challenge," which he said would require USDA employees to limit themselves to the number of calories required under the USDA's new guidelines. 

Those guidelines limit the calories that all K-12 students can consume in one meal. Kindergartners through fifth graders could only have 650 calories per meal, a limit that would expand slightly to 850 calories for high-school students.

A USDA spokeswoman responded to the challenge by saying USDA has not banned any particular food items from schools, and that the guidelines only affect taxpayer-subsidized meals.

"Schools may still sell and students may still purchase servings of any type of food in addition to the subsidized meals, but it's just common sense that the meal paid for with hard-earned tax dollars be a healthy, balanced meal," she said.

Still, the GOP has said these limits are the result of a "nanny state" mentality in the Obama administration.

Setting up similar calorie restrictions in USDA cafeterias might lead to radical changes, as these cafeterias currently serve not only bountiful breakfasts and lunches, but also serve food between breakfast and lunch during a period they call "morning break," according to the USDA's website. USDA also provides "coffee and sweets" in the afternoon.

USDA's South Building cafeteria was serving a breakfast this week that included many items that would likely have to be removed or possibly subject to reduced portion sizes if Huelskamp's challenge were accepted. Items on the breakfast menu included Belgian waffles, scrambled eggs, sausage, biscuits, sausage gravy, corned beef hash, pancakes, french toast and scrapple, which is a fried loaf of pork scraps and flour.

That cafeteria was also serving a grilled Cuban pork panini sandwich every day, along with pizza. Officials who eat there today can also have a beef and leek pot pie for lunch.

Both Huelskamp and Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) have introduced the No Hungry Kids Act, H.R. 6418, which would eliminate USDA's diet restriction guidelines. The two members said USDA should not be limiting the amount of food children can eat in school.

King said when he introduced the bill that part of the blame for USDA's school lunch guidelines is its misinterpretation of Michelle Obama's effort to get children to eat healthier foods. He said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack interpreted that effort to mean that "because some kids are overweight, he would put every child on a diet."

— This story was updated at 1:12 p.m.