Defending NSLP

The following article was released by the Associated Press and printed in Newsday on Jan. 11, 2003.

WASHINGTON—Contrary to activists' claims, kids aren't getting fat because they eat school lunches, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman contends.

Congress is expected to focus on debating the nutritional value of food served in school cafeterias as lawmakers discuss renewing school lunch and other child nutrition programs overseen by the Agriculture Department.

"We cannot blame obesity on child nutrition programs in this country," Veneman said in an interview with The Associated Press.

USDA is responsible for distributing food from surplus meat, vegetables and fruit to schools to feed school children. It also provides food for breakfast programs at some schools and gives them nutritional guidance.

School lunch is one of the food sources that the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a group favoring a vegetarian, lowfat diet, argues should be blamed for young people being overweight.

But Veneman noted that the government is not the primary food provider for children: "The bulk of the eating decisions, or the buying, is done by the parents."

The debate over school lunches came as the surgeon general warned in 2001 that obesity is an epidemic affecting 13 percent of children and 60 percent of adults. The announcement left many people wondering who is responsible, which foods are causing obesity and what can be done to trim waistlines.

Livestock groups rejected any share of the blame

"Where's the statistics, the backup that shows this is causing obesity?" said Kara Flynn, spokeswoman for the National Pork Producers Council. "It's an anti-meat attack, as usual."

The Food Research and Action Center, an advocacy group promoting the school lunch program, called the physicians' claims absurd.

School lunches are designed to meet USDA dietary guidelines for meat, grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables, said Lynn Parker, the center's director of child nutrition programs.

"We're not seeing high-calorie sodas as part of lunch. We're not seeing dessert items as a large part of lunch," Parker said.

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
vote buttons pins

On every other Thursday of our four-week cycle menu, we allow K-8 students to pick the entree choices. The media center specialist for each of the participating schools sets up the list of entree items on a computer for voting, and the winning entrees are given to cafeteria managers two weeks before the upcoming month to put into production. Students really like this, as it promotes ownership of the menu.

Ideas and Innovation
chalkboard

We highlight our North Carolina products on a large chalkboard in our dining halls, and also list any produce we bring in from our own agroecology farm. It helps tell our story—positive and local.

Ideas and Innovation
raised garden beds

We have raised garden beds that residents can reserve and use to grow their own plants. Whenever a resident brings me fresh produce from their own garden, I try and incorporate it into a dish. If I do end up using it, I will display the resident’s name and what the produce was next to the dish on the menu.

Ideas and Innovation
chartwells teaching kids

Curriculum for the mobile teaching kitchen centers around a single kid-friendly recipe, using ingredients that can provide talking points for nutrition, sustainability and food origins. “The recipe is the lesson,” Saidel says. “Every ingredient is an opportunity to talk.”

Earlier this year, Saidel, Perkins and Harvey did a student demo featuring roasted chicken and white bean tacos with greens and citrus salsa. “We can say, ‘Why are we using chicken instead of beef? Why are there some beans in here?’ You can talk about plant proteins and the sustainability and health message around...

FSD Resources