School meals get ugly

Is the debate over changing meal regulations harming school lunch programs’ image?

The gloves came off last week. After the USDA announced leniency for rules regarding whole-grain pasta, the U.S. House backed a bill that would allow districts to opt out of new school meal pattern regulations if they could prove the rules were a financial burden.

The School Nutrition Association (SNA) is asking for additional permanent changes, including eliminating the regulation that students must take a fruit or vegetable to have the meal qualify as reimbursable. The association says some leniency is needed to help struggling districts.

The first lady took offense, calling the proposed changes to school meals “unacceptable.” Michele Obama said the rollbacks would harm the health and well-being of the nation’s children.

The USDA finds itself in a tough position, as it tries to straddle both sides of the fence. The department, which has taken a fair share of grief regarding implementation of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, is trying to appease both the White House and SNA.

The entire situation has done tremendous harm to the progress that has been accomplished in the past couple of years when it comes to the public perception of school meals. The industry is often the butt of bad jokes and, by and large, most people have no idea how healthy the foods provided by school meal programs actually are.

The public mudslinging in the media has opened up the child nutrition industry to negative dialogue. Most Americans have no idea what goes into the meals that are served in schools. The stories that are coming out regarding this squabbling often come with headlines saying something to the effect that changes are being made to make school meals less healthy.

Instead of making school meals political and battling it out in the press, wouldn’t it be better if all the key stakeholders got together and talked about what’s working and what’s not with regard to the rules? Nothing is perfect, and a law as complicated as the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is no exception.

One of the prevailing complaints I heard when the law came out was that directors felt like their voices were not heard in the lawmaking processes. Here goes round two.

It’s time to stop, talk, listen, learn and work together, because what happened last week only hurts the industry and engenders animosity between the players involved. That, ultimately, does the school children no good.

More From FoodService Director

Sponsored Content
chili flakes and peppers spicy hot

From Catallia.

When planning your menus, take note: college and university students think spicy is hot.

Fifty-seven percent of consumers age 18-34 find spicy flavors, “extremely appealing,” according to Technomic. And almost 50% of college students surveyed said they would like their schools to offer more ethnic foods and beverages, states a recent Technomic College & University Consumer Trend Report. Translation: they like their food kicked up a notch!

More Options than Ever

“Students of today are all about flavor,” says Steve Mangan, director of dining for...

Industry News & Opinion

Sodexo is partnering with celebrity chef Robert Irvine in an attempt to provide military communities with healthier meals.

The 10-year partnership will allow Sodexo to access chef Irvine’s knowledge of nutrition and fitness in its aim to benefit the quality of life for military members, the vendor said in a news release.

Sodexo hopes that Irvine’s popularity as the host of Food Network’s "Restaurant: Impossible" will draw attention to its commitment to nutrition, health and well being. Irvine also has a military history himself—before embarking on his culinary career, he...

Industry News & Opinion

The cafeteria at the Smithsonian's new National Museum for African American History and Culture is intended to be an extension of the museum, showcasing stations that offer cuisines from different geographic locations such as the Creole coast and agricultural South, Time reports .

The eatery, Sweet Home Cafe, was set up to highlight the wide range of African-American cuisine, Executive Chef Jerome Grant told Time. When it officially opens later this month, it will serve dishes such as shrimp and grits, pan-roasted oysters and a fried catfish po’boy.

Celebrity chef Carla...

Sponsored Content
Pierce boneless wings

From Pierce Chicken.

Spicy chicken wings have taken off as an iconic American food since their debut at the Anchor Bar Restaurant in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1964. They reached a new milestone during Super Bowl 50 weekend in February, when more than 1.3 billion wings were consumed, according to the National Chicken Council.

The emergence of boneless wings—breaded, boneless chunks of chicken breast with zesty flavors—has made a good thing even better. In fact, research shows that boneless wings complement traditional bone-in wings on restaurant menus, boosting the entire wing...

FSD Resources