First lady Michelle Obama's signature healthy eating initiative – the plan that's been pushed onto school lunch menus around the nation — is causing too many problems and demands speedy overhaul, a government watchdog agency found.
One of the biggest recommendations: Give local schools more control over their lunch menus.
The Government Accountability Office's recent report, School Lunch: Modifications Needed to Some of the New Nutrition Standards, was based on testimony before the House subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education in late June. The findings: Schools were put in a tough spot to implement new lunch requirements with lowered fat and calorie counts in 2012. And "these changes sometimes led to negative student reactions," GAO reported.
Meat and grain restrictions from the U.S. Department of Agriculture have led to smaller lunch entrees, leaving schools hard-pressed to provide the required number of calories without adding unhealthy items, like gelatin. The USDA, in fact, was forced to temporarily lift its restrictions so schools could figure out how to cope, GAO reported.
Calorie restrictions also caused headaches for schools to provide for the different grade levels and ages -- when those different grade levels were all attending the same building. In some cases, students reported feeling hungry from the decreased calorie requirements, GAO said.
The report stated: "The new lunch requirements were leaving some students hungry, an issue raised in five of the districts we visited. For example, in one district, a high school principal told us that during school year 2012-2013, athletic coaches expressed concerns that student athletes were hungrier after school than they were in previous years, and staff reported that more students were distracted during the final period of the school day than in previous years. In the district we visited in which middle and high school students boycotted school lunch at the beginning of the year, the boycott was led by two student athletes in part because they indicated that the lunches were leaving them hungry. These concerns were likely related to decreased entrée sizes."
The GAO recommended several changes.
Among the suggestions: Give schools more flexibility in complying with calorie mandates. And get rid of the weekly meat and grain maximums for school lunches.
The National School Lunch Program served 31.6 million students in fiscal 2012, GAO reported. The plan was paid, in part, by $11.6 billion in federal subsidies.
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