With pomp and circumstance the news came last week, the USDA would be making allowances on the restrictions it enforced on the school lunch and breakfast program. I first heard and read about more grains and meat allowances in the school lunch. A good start. Then I started to read the fine print and saw it is only for the 2012-2013 school year.
Our schools can ignore the meat and grain restrictions but not the calorie limitations for only this school year.
Is this a solution?
Some may think so when they hear the headlines. My mom called and said, “You won!”, referring to the grass roots effort that thousands of students, schools, parents and concerned citizens have been working on for months by contacting our elected officials, letter writing to the USDA, creating videos, writing blogs and participating in Twitter chats with the USDA.
Our son, Hunter, was interviewed by the Associated Press in an article that was run nationwide in September. He did his own interview, before school when Nathan and I were both working. He was nervous but he was ready to share, hoping to create positive change with his comments.
We were proud he was bold enough to share. Yet we were disappointed in the response in the article by the USDA. Rather than suggest solutions, the response from the USDA was sarcastic.
USDA Undersecretary Concannon’s response to Hunter’s comments in the article were, “If you look at colleges in the United States, if you’ve ever looked at the tables where they’re feeding just the football players. Good God … If you emulated that, we’d all be wearing size 48 suits by our 20s,” he said. “You have to use common sense.”
Hunter is not a college football player. He is a high school freshman. He might wear a 48 suit before college. He plays football. His coach calls him “Big Skinny”. He needs 4700 calories per day to maintain his weight. He can now eat more meat and grains in his school lunch with the restrictions lifted only for the remainder of the school year. But he is still limited to 850 calories per lunch.
Is this the common sense Concannon was referencing? Is the solution creating headlines to still limit calories but allow grains and meat just a media hype to try to avoid Congress from acting on real change and solutions?
Of course the Associated Press reporter in September only used tidbits of what Hunter said. It wasn’t shared that Hunter knows he will be fed plenty of calories because his family will make sure of it. We can send lunches with him to school.
We can allocate more of our income to food and we have. I now spend just as much on food as our mortgage payment is. We have huge family suppers each evening now. We always have had family suppers but I can no longer make a lighter supper. Eating your largest meal of the day at 7 p.m. when you get home from practice or at 10 p.m.after a game is not the healthiest choice. But it is the circumstances created directly from the calories restrictions at school. To prevent Hunter’s severe hunger on game days, Hunter goes to his grandma’s house. “Nana” makes a balanced meal for him.
Hunter can walk across the street from school to a homemade meal to meet his calorie needs. What a blessed child, he is.
But 40% of our school is on free and reduced lunches. 67% of students nationwide qualify for the program. They don’t have Nana across the street. Their families might not have any extra money for additional food. They do not have extra cash in their lunch accounts to buy a second lunch to fill their hungry stomachs.
The real point to me that is being missed at the local level all the way to the federal level is that we have hungry kids with no other options. Opening up grains and meat restrictions for the remainder of the school year is a public relations splash but not a real solution.
This is not addressing obesity as Mrs. Obama says it does. An overwhelming majority of hungry kids that leave school don’t go home to eat carrots. I think they might be eating Pringle’s.
Connect with Sensible School Lunches on Facebook. You can also write. They need to hear from you:
Undersecretary of Food & Nutrition Services
1400 Independence Ave, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20250