Congress Says 'No' to School Lunch Changes

Can the federal government tell our children what and what not to eat? Apparently not, at least according to Congress. Lawmakers recently rejected changes proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that were targeting 'bad' foods found on school menus. It's a decision that has left certain food manufacturers rejoicing and at least some nutritionists shaking their heads in disbelief.

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'Profits Before Health'

Score one for the food industry.

At least those companies that prepare frozen pizzas, soft drinks and even potatoes for thousands of schools across the country. These foods and others would have been reduced or off the menu completely had the USDA gotten its way. But at what cost did the victory come?

Some would say at the cost of children's health as concerns over child obesity rise. New York University professor and nutritionist Marion Nestle told The New York Times on November 1st: 'It's unfortunate that the food industry is putting profits before the health of children.'

No Chance to Make History

In August 2011, Kevin Concannon, Under Secretary of the USDA, was quoted at as saying that the proposed changes to school lunches, which included reducing fatty meats and sodium, increasing fruits and vegetables and introducing more whole grains, would be 'the most significant change in the history of the school lunch program.'

At the time, implementation of these proposals seemed imminent. 'Your children will have healthier choices for lunch at school thanks to changes to the school lunch program' the article began, seeming to leave little doubt that the USDA would be successful in bringing about these changes.

By November, it was no longer history in the making. A new bill drafted by the House and Senate essentially stopped the USDA in its tracks. The bill requires the USDA to further define 'whole grains' and blocks the department's attempt to have schoolchildren cut back on the consumption of French fries and sodium.

The bill also blocks the department's attempt to add the requirement that one half-cup and not the current one-eighth cup of tomato paste be used per slice of pizza in order to qualify as a vegetable.

A Matter of Taste

Whole grain crusts on pizza? Whole wheat pasta? More fruits and vegetables? Less salt and starchy vegetables?

It's hard enough to get kids to eat at all, let alone foods that simply do not appeal to them. Some feel that kids in school cafeterias across the nation would likely throw away 'healthier' food rather than eat it. In that light, serving something, even if it's less than ideal, is better than nothing.

And how about adding more tomato paste to pizza? Some felt that the increase proposed by the USDA could have rendered the pizza inedible. 'And pizza is a big part of school lunches,' Corey Henry, spokesman for the American Frozen Food Institute, told The New York Times. Along with potatoes, it's definitely something most kids seem to eat.

The rejection of the USDA's changes now forces the department to submit new proposals. So for now, schoolchildren across America can breathe a sigh of relief: a little bit of pizza sauce still counts as a vegetable and no one, at least for now, is taking away their French fries and potato chips.

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