Tucked into the massive $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill passed before Congress left town was a provision providing local school officials with greater flexibility with their school lunch menus, but it is not likely to end efforts by lawmakers to scale back the program championed by Michelle Obama – a move which may find its strongest supporters among students themselves.
"When lunch ends, I feel that the trashcans are more full than my stomach. If I don’t want an apple or piece of bread and I am handed them, I can guarantee that it will end up going to waste,” Lindsey Russell, a student at South Carolina's Fort Mill High told the Fort Mill Times.
Similar stories of waste and distaste of the school lunches have inspired a Twitter hashtag #thanksmichelleobama, which features students posting photos of their uneaten meals. Those kinds of complaints led to a number of schools in Wyoming to drop out of the federal program, reports The Daily Mail.
With Republicans controlling both chambers in the new Congress, the drive to push back against the nutritional requirements is likely to pick up speed, reports Politico.
Rep. Robert Aderholt, chairman of the House Appropriations Agriculture Subcommittee, and his Senate counterpart Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota are likely to use the reauthorization of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to roll back some of the mandates on local schools.
Even the limited action taken to allow financially-strapped schools to scale back to 2012 levels the percentage of whole grains in their menus elicited a strong response from advocates of the first lady's Healthy Schools Program.
"I don't think we quite know the extent of what these provisions will do and how to move forward with them, This is the tip of the iceberg for them to keep chipping away and rescind a popular law that works," said the American Heart Association's Government Relations Manager Kristy Anderson, The Hill reports.
"Although well-intended, some of USDA’s rules went too far, too fast, and ended up driving students away from healthy school meals while unnecessarily driving up costs for schools," said School Nutrition Association (SNA) CEO Patricia Montague, said in a press release
praising the move.
While the law was intended to boost healthy eating mandating specific nutritional guidelines, in recent years the level of student participation has continued to decline.
A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released in January 2014
found that student participation in the National School Lunch Program declined by 1.2 million students (or 3.7 percent) from school year 2010-2011 through school year 2012-2013.
The decrease, the GAO said, was driven primarily by a decline of 1.6 million students eating school lunch who pay full price for meals, despite increases in students eating school lunch who receive free meals.
According to the GAO, officials they interviewed reported that they faced challenges with addressing plate waste and managing food costs, as well as planning menus and obtaining foods that complied with portion size and calorie requirements.
In September, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released similar data
showing participation in the school lunch program continues to decline in the 2014-15 school year with 183,510 fewer students choosing school lunch in September 2014 than September 2013.
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