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“The School Lunch Debate” has been all over the news since a House subcommittee approved a measure allowing school districts with proven economic hardship to temporarily opt out of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act nutrition standards passed in 2010. The new measure would allow schools to sidestep new standards for lower-sodium and 100% whole grains in meals. GOP leaders and the School Nutrition Association, which represents school food service directors and food suppliers, claim that the new requirements are unattainable. They are saying that kids aren’t interested in the healthy options; therefore the schools are losing large amounts of money due to waste. There is also concern about effectively reducing the amounts of sodium and other preservatives.
According to NPR, about a month ago, the USDA decided to relax its guidelines on whole grains by “offering a two-year extension for schools that can 'demonstrate significant challenges in serving whole-grain rich pastas' to continue serving 'traditional enriched pasta products' for up to two more years as the food industry develops better whole-grain pasta products for schools".
Supporters of upholding the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act nutrition standards include the First Lady Michelle Obama, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, the National Education Association, the American Medical Association, and the American Heart Association.
Education paired with healthy options could be the answer to healthier students and less food waste. Kids are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables that they’re familiar with, and toss out those that they don’t know. Research has shown that kids need to be exposed to a new food 10-15 times, before they are likely to try and acquire a taste for it. More than 40,000 schools across the U.S. are currently engaging in farm-to-school activities. Students who are introduced to new foods in the classroom or school garden are more inclined to try them in the cafeteria. Education is a powerful and effective preventative measure to combat diet-related disease.
Paying extra for more nutritious foods in our schools costs much less than the $14 billion per year spent on treating conditions such as type-2 diabetes and hypertension in children. One in three children in the U.S. is currently overweight or obese, and one in three children will eventually develop diabetes if current trends continue. The answer shouldn’t be taking away these standards for nutrition, but instead figuring out ways to help schools achieve them more easily, and with less waste.