MORE than 30 million children trundle through school cafeteria lines every day in the United States and thanks to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which took effect in 2012, they are no longer served greasy pizza, salty French fries and sauced up chicken wings. Meals must now be lower in fat, calories and sodium and contain lean proteins, more fruits and vegetables and whole grains. And kids from coast to coast are wrinkling their noses.
Food and nutrition directors at school districts nationwide say that their trash cans are overflowing while their cash register receipts are diminishing as children either toss out the healthier meals or opt to brown-bag it. While no one argues that the solution is to scrap the law and go back to feeding children junk, there’s been a movement to relax a few of the guidelines as Congress considers whether to reauthorize the legislation, particularly mandates for 100 percent whole grains and extremely low sodium levels, so school meals will be a bit more palatable and reflective of culinary traditions.
“Other than mandating more fruits and vegetables, the new regulations haven’t really changed anything except force manufacturers to re-engineer products” so they meet the guidelines but not children’s taste expectations, said Bertrand Weber, director of culinary and nutrition services at the Minneapolis Public Schools. “Now kids get whole grain doughnuts — whoop-de-do.”