American Elephants

Michelle Obama’s One-Size-Fits-All School Lunch Guidelines Echo Her Husband’s Approach. by The Elephant's Child

It seems odd. but there are fads in issues as well as fashions. When’s the last time you heard a rant about childhood obesity? The First Lady took that one on as her personal project. First Ladies apparently must have a “project.” Lady Belle Johnson was enthusiastic about wildflowers, Laura Bush promoted childhood reading, Nancy Reagan took on drug abuse. I cannot remember what if anything was Hillary’s project. I remember that she was quite determined to be a “co-president” along with her husband — which didn’t go over well with the public at all.

Michelle Obama took on childhood obesity as her special project, and supported new rules that would restrict calories and limit portion sizes in school meals. Her ideas suffered from the same problems as her husband’s. “One size fits all” didn’t fit the nation’s school children. The calorie restrictions and smaller portions left kids who were active sports participants hungry. The food police rejected lunches prepared at home that did not fit the new USDA guidelines, making many parents furious.  There was little recognition of the foods that kids like. If you have ever visited a school lunch room at lunchtime, you will have seen the enormous waste as kids throw away the foods that they don’t like.

I can sympathize. I still remember scraping the tomato aspic off my plate into the napkin in my lap while a confederate distracted the nun’s attention. I don’t know if she was fooled, but we all hated tomato aspic, and probably all still do till this day.

The modified meals, which took effect starting with the 2012 school year, were aimed to limit fat and salt, curb portion sizes and boost fruit and vegetable servings. Under the guidelines, half of breads and other grain-based foods offered must contain whole grains until the start of the 2014 school year, when all such foods must be whole-grain.

Schools that adopted the changes got more money back from the federal government, in part to offset the higher prices of “healthier foods.” Read that as the heavy hand of government will direct what your child eats, or you will pay! Children cannot possibly make proper choices without government control.

There is some question about governmental estimates of obesity and overweight. The guidelines may be all one size, but kids aren’t. Some kids are small and skinny by nature. Others are stocky, but not fat. Obesity estimates seem to have come from Body Mass Index (BMI) guesstimate or measurements which were not meant to serve such a purpose. Some kids get their growth early, and tower over others who are the same age.

Over time, those who produce school lunches have learned a lot about what kids like — pizza for example. Pizza can be healthy food, and a good way to get the vegetables down. The standards have not been ended, but “relaxed.” Kids will get more meat and increased weekly maximum amounts for grains and meat alternatives.  School districts can serve larger portions without penalty.

The other part of the equation is recess and activity. For a while, at least, competition was out, as were competitive sports. It was thought that having ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ was bad for the kids self-esteem, which ended up reducing the activity in recess.  That last sentence in the previous paragraph should cause any parent major anxiety. “School districts can serve larger portions without penalty.”  How did we get here?


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