By Justin Sink - 06/16/14 01:18 PM EDT
First lady Michelle Obama on Monday blasted back at critics of her school lunch program, arguing parents should ensure their children eat healthy meals.
Obama said parents and school leaders can’t let children make the call to eat pizza and burgers for lunch every day.
“Our job as adults to make sure that our kids eat what they need, not what they want,” she added.
“What we need to do is lend a hand to the schools that are struggling, not roll back the standards and say, ‘Oh, well. The kids don’t like it so let them eat cake.’ We can’t afford to do that,” she said.
House Republicans are expected to hold a floor vote this week on a bill that would waive tougher nutritional standards on school lunches if the school shows it has operated at a net loss over six months.
The standards are intended to ensure that children get whole grains, fruits and vegetables in their school meals. They also put a limit on sodium in meals.
Republicans say schools need greater flexibility to implement the standards championed by the first lady, and that the tougher requirements cost too much.
The White House has backed a compromise agreement adopted by the Senate Appropriations Committee. Under that deal, tougher requirements on sodium levels would not be implemented, although requirements for schools to offer fruits and vegetables would be kept.
The Senate plan also asks the Agriculture Department to identify products schools could purchase instead of whole-grain pastas and breads, and offer technical assistance to schools struggling to meet the new requirements.
The first lady said that rather than rolling back standards, officials should “help the schools that are struggling do a better job at making the meals more enjoyable for the kids.”
“It’s so important for our schools to make the hard calls for our kids, because parents are struggling enough at home. So once you make that decision to set the rules, you don’t want to be undermined when your kids go to school and have some sweet cereal for breakfast with chocolate milk followed by a donut and then a burger and fries for lunch,” she added. “That’s why we’re in the state that we’re in right now, in regards to the epidemic of childhood obesity.”
The fight over school lunches has been a rare foray into politics for the first lady. Last week, she held an event at the White House with school nutritionists where she prepared salads with local elementary school students, in another bid to rally support for the nutrition standards.