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November 16 2011

Uncle Sam Can't Cook

Julie Gunlock

The news that Congress is trying to “unravel” the Obama administration's efforts to make school lunches more nutritious is being met with criticism from the usual suspects—the food nannies.

The AP reported today that Congress is trying to back off some of the restrictions inserted into the overly prescriptive school lunch bill that was passed in 2010.  That bill—the Healthy and Hunger Free Kids act of 2010—restricted such kid-friendly (and incredibly nutritious) foods as potatoes and put absurd limits on salt while at the same time required more vegetables and whole grains on school menus. 

The Center for “science” and the Public Interest’s mouthpiece Margo Wooten managed to comment (no-doubt through her tears) on the congressional move saying “Congress's proposed changes will keep schools from serving a wider array of vegetables.”

Poor Margo….she must not cook much.  If she did, she would know that salt is one of the things that make vegetables taste so good.  I serve my kids lots of vegetables and there's a simple trick I use to get them to gobble up their veggies: slather them in butter and salt.  Without these two critical elements, I get sullen faces and cries for “noodles!” By requiring schools to serve more vegetables while at the same time limiting salt, the feds will accomplish one thing: a lot of veggies in the trash can at the end of lunch hour. 

But this really is nothing new.   As I’ve written before, Congress has focused on improving school lunches for more than a decade.  In 1994, Congress passed the Healthy Meals For Healthy Americans Act, which required schools to meet the recommended daily allowance for calories and nutrients and required meals to be limited in fat.  And yet, school lunches apparently didn’t improve.  But that’s ok, Congress took another crack at it in 1995, when they required the USDA to create the Food and Nutrition Service which provided grants and technical assistance to states, training for school food service personnel, and classroom nutrition education materials.

Apparently that didn’t work either.  So, the USDA piled on more programs (with much cuter names…because it must have been a naming problem).  The USDA”s "Changing the Scene" and "Eat Smart. Play Hard" programs provided resources to schools on how to promote healthy eating and physical activity.

Wait…we’re not done yet.  More of your taxpayer dollars went to fund a CDC funded grant program to support state health departments in developing and implementing nutrition and physical activity interventions.  Three years after that, the CDC began providing support for school health programs in 22 states that focused on promoting healthy eating behaviors, physical activity, and tobacco use prevention among students.

In short, Michelle Obama isn’t breaking new ground with her Let’s Move campaign and her efforts to make school lunches healthier. Despite these efforts, and millions of taxpayer dollars, kids continue to do what kids do—demand pizza and French fries.   

The idea that more federal control — or more rules to govern the school-lunch program and more restrictions on particular ingredients and specific foods — would transform children into kale chip and carrot stick-loving kids is absurd. 

But then, so are many of Washington’s “get healthy” initiatives.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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