Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

USDA school lunch portion control rules gone for good

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The following column ran on and runs here with complete permission.

The whiny video over the portion size of school lunches did the trick. The USDA has permanently dropped the calorie limits from the rules.

True, the rules were temporarily relaxed after a video surfaced following a cafeteria strike and GOP politicians complained about the cuts in portion size, particularly among carbohydrates and protein.

It’s like the old joke, “The food is lousy and the portions are too small.”

“The USDA made the permanent changes we have been seeking to the School Lunch Program,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) said in a statement. “A one-size-fits-all approach to school lunch left students hungry and school districts frustrated with the additional expense, paperwork and nutritional research necessary to meet federal requirements.”

The changes, established in 2012, also dealt with limits on fat and sodium and increasing fruit and vegetable servings. Those changes didn’t inspire videos, so presumably they’ll stay.

Previous coverage:

School lunch reform happens quicker when conservatives whine

850 calories argument makes for good TV, but falls short on honesty

Mukwonago students strike because their lunches are ‘only’ 850 calories

The changes limited meals for high school students to 850 calories, a reasonable amount in a normal 2,000 calorie day. If the people complaining were those who don’t get enough to eat at home, that response would be completely reasonable against a “one-size-fits-all” attitude.

Then again, those kids aren’t running to make videos; kids with plenty of food have more energy to make videos.

The experts tell us that kids need as many as 10 times to like a new food. So the kids needed time to adjust all the way down to 850 calories. If you go back and look at how quickly these two videos made a wave, Nightline and The Daily Show had both weighed in by the end of September. And by December, the rules were temporarily relaxed.

We never did have the discussion about what the limits should be. 900 calories? 1000 calories? The easing of the rules was basically to say, “here are the rules, except when we want to break them.” To be fair, that was the standard before the USDA implemented the new rules.

A few kids complained in a school outside Milwaukee. A group of kids in Kansas with help from a teacher made a video. That was enough to take away changes that could have helped these children and millions of others. The Mukwonago, WI kids might have been sincere in expressing their concerns, but ultimately they were used as pawns to score cheap political points.

No school lunch program would ever replicate children going home to home-cooked nutritious meals at lunchtime. But in the reality universe that isn’t black and white TV, we have kids who are getting too much to eat side-by-side with kids who aren’t getting enough. And what both sides need are solutions.

photo capture: Kansas video


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