School officials: Lunch rules driving kids to pizza

School officials: Lunch rules driving kids to pizza
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Strict school lunch regulations, administrators say, are pushing kids to order fast-food and run to 7-Eleven for Big Gulps at the end of the school day.

As Congress considers reauthorizing the Healthy Hunger-free Kids Act, which is set to expire on Sept. 30, members of the School Nutrition Association (SNA) took to Capitol Hill on Thursday to urge lawmakers to roll back provisions of first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle LeVaughn Robinson ObamaMichelle Obama attends Beyonce and Jay-Z concert in Paris Princes Charles and William refused to meet Trump: report Queen Elizabeth greets Trump for first visit to UK as president MORE’s prized healthy school lunch requirements.

Under the act, schools are forced to serve 100 percent whole grain bread and pasta, require students to take a half cup of fruit and vegetables with every meal and reduce sodium levels in elementary, middle and high schools to 935 mg, 1,035 mg and 1,080 mg, respectively, by 2017.

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As a result, officials say student participation in school lunch programs has declined, with more food is going to waste and, in some districts, students are ordering in.

“We have a new problem where we have to police the front doors,” said Debbie Beauvais, district supervisor of school nutrition services at three school districts in the Rochester, N.Y., area. “Security is turning into a concierge because fast food trucks are pulling up. Kids are texting the local pizzeria and pizzas are showing up at lunch.”

Of the students who are eating the school lunch, Beauvais said 23 percent are throwing away the half-cup of fruit or vegetables they are forced to take, which cost on average 26 cents each. With $112,320 spent on 432,000 cups of fruit or vegetables served a year, that’s $25,834 wasted.

SNA members are asking Congress to do away with that requirement and revert back to the 2010 standard that requires only half of all grains offered to be whole-grain rich and leave sodium levels where they are until research proves further benefit to children.

However, during the congressional staff briefing, Kelly Horton, a legislative assistant for Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), said 93 percent of schools are complying with the current standards.

“Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater,” she said.

If schools want to stop students from buying soda and junk food, Horton said, maybe they shouldn’t allow their students to leave campus. 

“This is a whole environment change that needs to happen,” she said. “So many people have diabetes and obesity and end up in the hospital later in their lives and they’re not living as long as they should. I just want to bring in that whole global perspective.”

SNA President Julia Bauscher said the some schools have successfully implemented the healthy school lunch requirements, but the school nutrition programs are extremely diverse in size and what percentage of meals are free and reduced.

“I think right off the bat we admitted that the Healthy Hunger-free Kids Act has created a lot of positive change in schools meals and we certainly don’t want to roll back school meal standards to where we were prior to the implementation,” said Lynn Harvey, chief of school nutrition services at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.  

“We’re asking for just some sensible flexibility around a few things that were included in the act.”