Through federal guidelines set in the Health Hunger-Free Kids Act, the National School Lunch Program is doubling fruits and vegetables, increases whole grains and cuts sodium in school lunches. Critics of the law have seized on new calorie caps for these lunches, pointing to some students’ complaints that they are still hungry during the day. But USDA officials say it’s just part of the adjustment period, and introducing more healthy snacks in school could help students feel more satisfied:
School lunch trays are a bit lighter this year after Congress-approved calorie limits on school lunches went into effect in August. The new regulations, which were championed by First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her “Let’s Move” campaign to fight childhood obesity, have inspired protests and even a video parody from students who claim the reduced lunches are making them go hungry. [...]
[Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom] Vilsack said the Obama Administration is working with school districts to create snack programs and encouraging parents to pack extra food for their active students to munch on before football practice or band rehearsal.
“We understand that change is difficult,” Vilsack said. “Some folks love it, some folks have had questions about it, but that’s to be expected when you’re dealing with 32 million children and you’re dealing with over a hundred thousand school districts.”
On NPR, Jessica Donze Black of Pew Trust’s Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project points out that the 850 calorie cap isn’t actually drastically different from lunches before. “When we look at what students were actually eating on average a couple of years ago, it was around 790 calories in an average lunch.” Even so, the USDA is in the process of releasing new standards for “competitive foods” found in vending machines and school stores, so students will have healthy options for snacks in between meals at school if they feel they are left unsatisfied at lunch.
Studies find that better nutrition, including more fruits and vegetables, actually make people feel fuller. But conservative critics like Rep. Steve King (R-IA) — who calls the new lunch guidelines “the perfect example of what is wrong with government” — misportray these standards as creating a “scant diet,” even though they are actually in compliance with Institute of Medicine recommendations. King’s alternative proposal for limitless calories in school lunches contradicts both the science on good nutrition and reality of high childhood obesity and overweight levels.