June 23 2014

School Lunch Fight Update: White House Claims More Salad Bars Are Driving Participation

Patrice J. Lee

There’s a food fight in Washington over the school lunches for kids nationwide. The White House claims it has new ammunition in its arsenal to prove that kids and families want skinnier lunches, but when we dig in we see their bullets have no powder.

First Lady Michelle Obama and her army of food police experts instituted new rules for public schools requiring that calories be trimmed from meals and foods that kids like be stripped out. Out the window went taste. Kids weren’t sold on the new light meals and have been throwing away the food -going hungry and or raiding vending machines and fast food restaurants. School systems are caught in a hard place of being forced by government regulations to buy food that kids aren’t eating, wasting much-needed resources. Congress is taking on FLOTUS, working to give back to school systems more control.

Earlier this year, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released an audit of the new nutrition standards and found that one million kids dropped out of the school lunch program during the 2012-2013 school year, the first year the law went into effect. Forty-eight out of 50 states faced challenges implementing the new healthier standards, which resulted in kids throwing out their fruits and vegetables, student boycotts, higher lunch costs, and odd food pairings. If cheese sticks with shrimp sounds unappetizing, it is. But that’s what some schools served in order to comply with the complicated rules.

The First Lady has had to defend herself and her Let’s Move campaign against these charges, but she remains defiant that she knows what's best for every child. Now, the White House claims it has proof that it is on the right side of this issue.

In a blog post, Let’s Move administrators released findings from a survey of its “Salad Bars to Schools” program that finds 1.7 million school-age kids have access to donated fresh fruits and veggies because of this program and that there’s been increased student participation in the school lunch program.

Here’s more from the blog:

Among the benefits of school salad bars reported by school food service directors were increased student access to fresh fruits and vegetables and increased student participation in the school lunch program. 

… More than 3,400 salad bars have been donated to more than 1,000 school districts across the country since the initiative launched in 2010… Of the 585 school districts that received the survey, 357 school districts from 46 states responded.

Some key findings of the survey:

·         About half (51%) of students in districts that have received a salad bar are eligible for federal free and reduced-price school meals, showing that salad bars donated by the program are benefitting low income students.

·         Many recipient districts (57%) saw increased student participation in school lunch with the addition of salad bars, an important financial boost to support school meal programs.

·         A majority of districts (78%) reported purchasing more fruits and vegetables as a result of salad bar implementation.

·         School administrators, teachers, staff, and parents are supportive of school salad bars

If this is the White House’s smoking gun, they’d do better to keep it in the holster because they have demonstrated nothing. Granting 1.7 million kids access to salad bars just means they put more salad bars in school. That figure doesn’t tell us how many kids are actually eating from the salad bars or how many are learning to like salads.

The Administration is suggesting that more kids are participating in school lunches because of the addition of salad bars but is that correlation or causation? Are there other factors at play such as relaxing the eligibility for school lunch so that everyone can take it? 

And the weakest stat of all that “School administrators, teachers, staff, and parents are supportive of school salad bars” tells us nothing. That could be as few as a hundred compared to the tens of millions of parents, school staff and administrators who disagree.

The stories of plummeting morale among lunch workers, who spend more time cutting up veggies only to see them thrown away, cannot be ignored either.

FLOTUS is facing the reality that Americans don’t want her to decide what they eat and Washington bureaucrats to control what and how much their kids eat. And they especially don’t appreciate, using schools as a means of added government control over their children’s lives. Eating well is an important goal but should not be shoved down our children’s throats by Washington.

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