You Can Lead The Horse to Water but Water Isn’t Very Filling

The National School Lunch Program underwent a bit of a tummy tuck in 2010 with new limits on calories, carbohydrates, sugars, and fats. The limitations were put in place to promote healthy eating habits but not everyone sees the benefits to such regulation.

The NSLP

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is managed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA); it has been in operation since it was signed into law in 1946 under the Truman Administration. Since then, the NSLP has offered reimbursement to schools for providing nutritional and free or reduced cost lunches to over 224 billion students.

In 2010 the program was altered under the bill titled, Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (Public Law 111-296). First Lady Michelle Obama led the campaign for this change as part of her Lets Move! initiative. Specific changes include: serving larger portions of fruits and vegetables; calories from fat must be less than 30 percent of each meal; and, saturated fat must total less than 10 percent of each meal. To continue receiving the subsidies of years past, schools must comply with the new health regulations.

The Criticism

Since 2010 the changes to the program have fallen under much criticism. Students have voiced concern that the portions are too small, do not take into account the variance among students in size or activity, and are not adequate. Others are upset with the level of federal involvement in local school districts, places that are more often regulated at the state and local levels. In response to these critiques the USDA announced that more flexible guidelines were enacted as of January 2, 2014.

While the nutritional concerns for lunches across the United States are nothing to scoff at, the economic concerns for lunchrooms across the country are also valid. In central New York two school districts are dropping the federal regulations, along with the subsidies, altogether. Both the Fayetteville-Manlius and Baldwinsville districts are abandoning the latest version of the National School Lunch Program. The reason? The students simply arent purchasing the meals.

The Effect

The major threat, aside from student rebellion, is the viability of the schools’ cafeteria programs. The subsidy program only works when the school is able to sell lunches. When no lunch is sold, there is nothing for the government to reimburse. Additionally the food, as food does, goes bad and must be thrown out. This creates a deficit in the schools budget.

According to district officials students purchasing lunches at school are constantly in decline while those who bring lunch from home are on the rise. Many food items that were popular in the cafeterias prior to 2010 had to be deserted to comply with the newer, updated NSLP. Student surveys report that the portions served at school are too small and that the food isn’t very appetizing.

Currently members of the U.S. House of Representatives are attempting to create and pass legislation that will provide an exemption for those schools whose budgets are suffering due to lack of lunch sales.

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