The U.S. Department of Agriculture has lifted limitations on what kids can eat at schools -- the caloric intake of grains, starches and protein in the school lunch program.
Limitations were installed this school year, aimed to stem the rising tide of childhood obesity. They were fostered by First Lady Michelle Obama, but they raised the anger of parents who said their children weren’t getting enough to eat.
Under Obama's “Let’s Move” program, limits were placed on the number of lunch servings per student, and more emphasis was placed on vegetables and fruits.
During the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled, and today, nearly one in three children in America are overweight or obese, according to the USDA.
But one size of regulations do not fit everywhere. The USDA regulations shorted some students, especially fast-growing young athletes, and created burdensome paperwork.
The new revisions will lend more flexibility to schools and students, especially such athletes. Schools in Nebraska and across the country will receive official notice in a few days of the changes, which will be in place for the 2012-2013 school year, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has said.
The Bulletin reported complaints about Michelle Obama's school lunch initiative soon after school began in September.
Officials in Arnold and Stapleton said obesity is not a big concern in their schools compared to urban schools, because rural students tend to be much more active.
“These laws don’t always fit our rural areas,” Arnold Principal Dawn Lewis told Bulletin Correspondent Karen Hough. “Our children are active from elementary through high school. Most of the elementary students participate in Pee Wee or junior high volleyball or football and some go to gymnastics or dance. High school students who lift weights arrive at 6 a.m. and are here until after practice at 6 p.m.”
Officials in Hershey and North Platte said the lunch requirements didn’t really change, but the paperwork increased. They said cooks and lunch clerks spent hours filling out mandatory paper work.
“It’s tough to get used to,” Young said in September. “Lots of schools around the country were giving away seconds… but the state said ‘no, you can’t do that.’”
When seconds were served, they had to be recorded and students had to pay extra for them, under the first set of rules. And unlike the cost of the main meal, second helpings were not subsidized for low-income families, so costs kept some students from eating as much as they needed.
Rep. Adrian Smith, who met with students throughout Nebraska in October, said the newly revised rules are a good step, but he’s not sure they go far enough.
“I appreciate the Department of Agriculture’s decision to allow for more grains and meat in school meals,” Smith said. “These changes are a step in the right direction and should be made permanent.”
But Smith also said local officials should get more flexibility to implement school food guidelines.
“The legislation failed to adequately consider budget limitations faced by school lunch providers and provided no credit to schools already taking steps to offer students healthier choices,” he said.