New school lunch standards implemented as a result of First Lady Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign have led to more than 1 million children leaving the lunch line, according to a new report.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a wide-ranging audit of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act nutrition standards last week, finding 48 out of 50 states faced challenges complying with Mrs. Obama’s Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.
The new standards led to kids throwing out their fruits and vegetables, student boycotts, higher lunch costs, and odd food pairings such as “cheese stick with shrimp” in order for schools to comply with the complicated rules.
The National School Lunch Program saw a sharp decline in participation once the healthy standards went into effect during the 2012-2013 school year. A total of 1,086,000 students stopped buying school lunch, after participation had increased steadily for nearly a decade.
The report found that 321 districts left the National School Lunch Program altogether, many of which cited the new standards as a factor.
The decline was “influenced by changes made to comply with the new lunch content and nutrition standards,” state and local officials said.
The standards forced some schools to stop serving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and led middle school and high school students to opt for vending machines or buying food off campus to avoid the lunch line.
The GAO conducted a nationwide survey of nutrition directors and visited 17 schools in eight school districts for the audit. In each district, “students expressed dislike for certain foods that were served to comply with the new requirements, such as whole grain-rich products and vegetables in the beans and peas (legumes) and red-orange sub-groups, and this may have affected participation.”
The standards brought “negative student reactions.” In one case, middle school and high school students organized a three-week boycott after their school changed their sandwiches to comply with the rules.
All eight School Food Authorities (SFAs) the GAO visited “modified or eliminated” popular food items. One district had to cut cheeseburgers because “adding cheese to the district’s burger patties would have made it difficult to stay within the weekly meat maximums.”
The new standards are exhaustive, including calorie ranges for each age group, sodium limits, zero tolerance for trans fats, and specific ounce amounts for meats and grains. White bread will be mostly phased out beginning in 2014 because only “whole grain rich” items will be allowed.
Portion requirements and calorie limits are also in conflict, leading some SFAs to add unhealthy food such as pudding or potato chips to the menu, and serve odd food combinations in order to meet the rules.
“For example, one SFA served saltine crackers and croutons with certain salads to meet the minimum daily grain requirement and a cheese stick with shrimp to meet the minimum daily meat requirement,” the GAO said.
Unappetizing food led to the biggest problem school officials faced: food waste.