Schools ask for more flexibility in school lunch regs

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School districts were back before lawmakers Wednesday to ask for more flexibility in the first lady’s prized healthy school lunch regulations, which they say have made school lunches unappealing.

Though the regulations are well-intended, Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), chair of the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education, said states and schools are struggling.

“While program costs, administrative burdens and food waste are piling up, portion sizes, food offerings and the number of students participating in the program are on the decline,” he said during a subcommittee hearing on how much it’s costing states and schools to comply with the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which is set to expire on Sept. 30.

In Blackford County, Ind., John Payne said the school lunch regulations have created unintended consequences. 

“Perhaps the most colorful example in my district is that students have been caught bringing and even selling salt, pepper and sugar in school to add taste to perceived bland and tasteless cafeteria food,” he said. “This ‘contraband’ economy is just one example of many that reinforce the call for flexibility.”

Unlike the other witnesses testifying before the subcommittee on Wednesday, Donna Martin, director of the School Nutrition Program at Burke Country Public Schools in Georgia, said her program has not seen a decrease in student participation.

She said she’s serving whole grain biscuits and students are eating them, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables.

“We found that when we started offering local fresh fruits and vegetables like collards, cabbage, corn on the cob, broccoli, carrots, berries, melons, peaches, our consumption rate doubled,” Martin said.

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Cailf.) asked Martin how she gets her students to eat broccoli.

“It’s not that hard,” she said. “If you give them ranch dressing they’ll eat anything, and we have a wonderful fat free ranch dressing.”