In 2010, Michelle Obama went to a lame-duck session of Congress with a request: pass a nutrition bill giving the United States Department of Agriculture broad new powers to regulate school lunches. That bill was passed in late December of that year, and the new regulations have started to go into effect, with the predictable results of wasted food and angry, hungry children.
The cinnamon rolls and chili everyone loved from their childhood are now gone. Bands and other school groups can no longer sell candy bars as a fundraiser. The government is mandating everything from portion size to how many tomatoes have to be on a salad.
P.J. Moran, a food service director for a small district in rural Kansas, said wastage has gone up “at least 20 percent” over last year, as students, particularly at the grade school level, cannot refuse anything on their trays — but, of course, cannot be forced to eat it.
At the high school and junior high levels, things are more flexible, but not much. Moran said those students can refuse up to three items on the tray, but must take the fruit and vegetable servings whether they plan to eat them or not.
The district’s principal, Jim Bolden, said that at the beginning of the year, food service put fresh peaches on the students’ trays, only to helplessly watch them be thrown away by students who didn’t want them:
I bet we threw away four boxes of peaches.
The 8th grade class, which had planned — as always — to sell candy bars to fund its class trip this spring, has had to find new ways to fund it as sales of candy bars this year are allowed only during certain hours. Says Bolden:
Next year we will not be able to do any selling of food products at all. Right now we cannot sell from an hour before lunch until an hour after lunch ends.
Not only is the mandated food not popular and often wasted, there also is not enough of it, and students are protesting. Students in one district have released a YouTube video parodying their quest for enough to eat during the day. A Facebook page asks kids to send in pictures of their meager lunches.
According to Livestrong.com, teenagers need between 2,000 and 3,000 calories per day to be healthy, and athletes can need as many as 5,000 calories. But the new regulations limit the intake to just 750-850 calories on the tray. Which, if the food is unpalatable, means the students may not be getting even that much.