School lunches another example of federal limits

— McCook (Neb.) Daily Gazette

“We’re from the federal government, and we’re here to help.”

Or, perhaps the saying that applies is “you can lead a kid to lunch, but you can’t make him eat it.”

We have generally supported new federal lunchroom guidelines promoting healthier foods, but the start of the new school year has revealed some predictable problems.

The School Nutrition Association found that 1 percent of 521 nutrition directors surveyed over the summer planned to drop out of the federal lunch program this year, and about 3 percent were considering doing so.

The problem?

“Some of the stuff we had to offer, they wouldn’t eat,” said Gary Lewis, superintendent at Catlin, Ill., who saw a 10 to 12 percent drop in lunch sales, translating to a $30,000 loss to his district last year, according to a story from The Associated Press.

“So you sit there and watch the kids, and you know they’re hungry at the end of the day, and that led to some behavior (issues) and some lack of attentiveness.”

One New York district quit the program after going $100,000 in the red, and another lost $30,000 in the first three months and halted participation part-way through the year after students repeatedly complained about the small portions and apples and pears went from the tray to the trash untouched.

In Sharon Springs, Kan., a football player complained that the 750-850 calorie limit for high school students wasn’t enough to carry him through after-school practice.

The player, Callahan Grund, said students came up with their own solution.

“A lot of kids were resorting to going over to the convenience store across the block from school and kids were buying junk food,” he said. “It was kind of ironic that we’re downsizing the amount of food to cut down on obesity, but kids are going out and getting junk food to fill that hunger.”

The National School Lunch Program is a big deal, spending $11 billion a year to reimburse schools for meals and making lower-priced food available.

It provides about $2.50 to $3 for each free and reduced-price meal, and about 30 cents for full-price meals.

But there are limits on federal power to influence our everyday lives, school lunches being a minor example compared to the health care system now being implemented.

We would be wise to remember that for every carrot Washington offers with one hand, it’s got an even bigger stick in the other.


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