- - Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The food fight over federal control of student lunches is personal for first lady Michelle Obama.

“My most important title is mom-in-chief,” she told the Democrat National Convention in 2012. Like other moms, she’s finding her children aren’t very obedient. And they don’t like her cooking.

The first lady has personally led an extreme makeover of the federal school lunch program launched by a 2010 law, pushing mandatory menus that are high on what is healthy but low on what kids will eat. Now the GOP is trying to restore more local choice over menus, so Mrs. Obama is leading a mostly left-leaning coalition to maintain and tighten the federal dictates.

Schools and kids have been complaining loudly about those mandates.

Kids care about the flavor; schools care about the economics. Students are brown-bagging, skipping lunch, or eating off-campus when they can. Last year that meant a 1.6-million drop-off in students who pay for lunch, reports the Government Accountability Office. It’s almost a 4 percent sales drop. Worsening the crunch is that school districts say the new menus cost more to prepare and serve.

This is wrecking their food budgets, schools complain, pushing many deep into the red. Last school year, says the School Nutrition Association, revenues declined in almost half of school meal programs but food costs were up in 90 percent of the programs.

And the strictest dietary standards haven’t yet begun; those won’t hit until this fall.

To top it off, students are throwing away massive quantities of stuff they refuse to eat. Nobody denies that veggies, fruits, whole grains and low fats are healthier. But that doesn’t persuade the kids to eat them.

But flexibility is not what Michelle Obama wants. At the December 2010 signing ceremony for the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act (approved by the Nancy Pelosi-led Congress), the first lady said about child nutrition, “We can’t just leave it up to the parents.”

That wasn’t an isolated moment. Even the healthiest children aren’t immune from being chastised by Mrs. Obama. In 2012, a few days after 16-year-old Gabby Douglas won Olympic gold as the world’s best all-around gymnast, she appeared with Michelle Obama on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” On live TV, the first lady criticized the teen for eating a McDonald’s Egg McMuffin to celebrate her Olympic victory.

President Obama likewise cannot escape his wife’s controlling ways. Campaigning at the Iowa State Fair, he complained that she would not let him try a fried Twinkie.

It’s unlikely that fried Twinkies will make their way onto school lunch menus. But public schools employ dieticians for a reason — to find that balance between nutrition and what kids will eat. It’s the same balance that parents must manage each and every day.

We don’t need Brown Bag Police who confiscate lunches a child brings from home. We don’t need Washington bureaucrats to micro-manage every morsel in thousands of public school districts.

The Obama daughters attend a private school. The first lady’s good intentions would probably be welcome to guide their school lunch program. But on a national scale, those good intentions have caused two things: a big food fight and lots of indigestion.

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