- - Thursday, October 2, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Metal detectors and security guards have become a common sight in America’s schools. These security measures may soon be joined by cookie-sniffing dogs and pat-downs for Pepsi at the schoolhouse door. As it stands, the only way to get a candy bar or a pack of potato chips into most public schools is to smuggle them in.

The Smart Snacks in Schools regulation, a component of the Michelle Obama’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, says snacks may not contain more than 200 calories, 230 milligrams of sodium or have total fat that is the source for more than 35 percent of the calories. Permitted food items must be rich in whole grains, and any juice box sold in cafeterias or vending machines must contain 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice.

That means popular favorites — and almost every dessert imaginable — are forever banned from school vending machines and a la carte lines in cafeterias. A Snickers bar, at 250 calories, is contraband. Rold Gold Tiny Twists pretzels have too much sodium. A small bag of Lay’s Classic potato chips falls below the maximum calorie and sodium allowances, but it fails to make the cut because 56 percent of the calories come from fat.

Though the rules are portrayed as healthy “standards” and not bans, overzealous principals wield them as an excuse to outlaw popular activities such as school bake sales. A slice of pie, piece of cake, cookie or brownie that is both large enough to taste and worth eating doesn’t carry the seal of approval from Mrs. Obama and must be prohibited.

In one Georgia high school, enterprising students baked muffins and sold them from a cart on campus to students and teachers. It was an excellent lesson in entrepreneurship, but The Marietta Daily Journal reported that the cart was banned after officials determined the muffins contained more than 200 calories.

The Morning Call, a newspaper in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, discovered that the East Penn school district stopped selling four of the five types of bagels it previously carried. The one remaining flavor, whole wheat, had to be reduced in size by more than half to meet the federal requirements that took effect in the current school year.

Students and teachers are venting their frustration at these rules on social media. One Louisiana student tweeted a photo of a classmate mocking a vending machine filled with nuts, light popcorn and other healthy snacks. A Tennessee high schooler responded to chocolate being taken out of school vending machines by filling her backpack with bags of bite-sized candy bars. In Georgia, a teacher and boys basketball coach took to Twitter to say that the “biggest topic of 1st day of school was the vending machines & the new ‘healthy’ choices,” while pointing out that he missed the cinnamon rolls previously sold in the school vending machines.

Not surprisingly, Mrs. Obama doesn’t enforce such draconian rules in her own home. Earlier this month, CQ Roll Call correspondent Steven Dennis tweeted a picture of the White House vending machine, which “sells a ‘Jumbo Honey Bun’ with 590 calories, 17g of saturated fat and 30g of sugar.”

This is more than just the usual Washington hypocrisy. The choice of what children should eat is a decision best left to parents, not the government — certainly not the federal government. Local schools are perfectly capable of consulting parents and crafting a lunch menu without the direction of distant bureaucrats.

Every community, every school and every child is different. The one-size-fits-all mandates are what need to be banned from the school cafeterias.

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