School lunches, the butt of jokes for decades, provoked a new wave of massive disgust from numerous students under the inflexible nutritional mandate of former First Lady Michelle Obama.
A 2015 study found that forcing students to take food they didn’t want — fruits or vegetables — merely added to the mounds of wasted food students hurled into the trash. Schools that didn’t fully comply with the mandate could be cut off from federal funding.
But those standards are to be eased Monday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to an article in The Hill, a political publication. Sonny Perdue, President Trump’s new Secretary of Agriculture, is expected to announce new standards giving schools more flexibility.
Congress, then under control of Democrats in both houses, imposed the mandate in 2010. It became effective in 2012, under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.
The idea was to get students used to eating what is widely believed to be healthier food, including fruits and vegetables, and less processed foods that are high in salt and other additives.
But the way the program was enforced revolted many. Offerings might be technically compliant with the regulations, but served in an unappetizing manner that defeated its purpose.
A 2014 Washington Post story reported that students blamed Obama for her advocacy of “gross” meals that were bland and nauseating.
Mandate opponents sarcastically congratulated the former First Lady with a Twitter hashtag #thanksmichelleobama, along with posts of less-than-appetizing meals.
Sarah Amin, a nutrition researcher at the University of Vermont who led the 2015 study, said the mandate didn’t achieve its purpose of putting ostensibly healthier food into students’ stomachs.
“In our study, we found that requiring them to select a fruit or vegetable under these guidelines might have led the children who were not consuming them in the first place, throwing them out and still continuing not to consume them,” Amin said in a Union-Tribune story on the mandate.
Amin said she didn’t want to stop efforts to provide fruits and vegetables, but to have schools offer them in a form that students want to eat.
Some efforts in that direction involve preparing fruits such as oranges so they are ready to eat, without having to peel the skin.
Meanwhile, studies have found some of the nutritional mandates, such as limitations on sodium and animal fat, to be scientifically unjustified.
People with higher levels of dairy fat in in their blood plasma tend to have lower rates of diabetes, according to a 2016 study published in the journal Circulation. Other studies have also pointed to the lack of evidence of harm from dairy fats, and evidence of a cardioprotective effect from dairy fats. That’s the opposite of advice from government agencies, the American Heart Association and other groups to serve children skim or nonfat milk.
For student lunches, this means that preferentially offering skim or nonfat milk instead of whole milk goes against the science.
While specific details are to be announced, one hint of the changes could be that the USDA’s website for planning what it says are healthy meals, Choose My Plate, was down for maintenance as of Sunday.
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