The Facts of Lunch: Federal School Regulations Aren’t The Answer

Ericka Andersen /

There is nothing wrong with fighting childhood obesity but fighting it at the federal level with ineffective methods that could cost each school district over $100,000 in budget increases isn’t going to cut it.

Every school district is different and it would be more appropriate to make these decisions at the state and local level so that the best options for each individual district can be provided for those particular students.

Regulators at the U.S. Department of Agriculture mistakenly assume their preliminary new federal rules to make school lunch healthier will naturally result in healthier kids. For many schools, the less tasty meals will be wasted, leaving oversized garbage cans full of costly fruits, veggies and hyper healthy portions the schools paid a pretty penny for.

And by schools, I mean the state taxpayers who have no say in what kind of regulations populate their local school districts. The total cost for the new rules is estimated to reach $6.8 billion, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Not only will the schools be adding more fruits and veggies, they will be adding more expensive products to ensure freshness – an unnecessary extravagance for most districts within this already expensive upgrade.

And the latest proposal? Removing white potatoes – meaning school lunches would absent tater tots and French fries – beloved staples of the school lunch tray for generations. Schools in Texas are even dishing out $2 million to install cameras that will monitor the calorie intake of students. The lunch trays will include bar codes for researching purposes. What a waste of taxpayer dollars.

The House subcommittee on Early Childhood Elementary and Secondary Education held a hearing Friday on the USDA’s preliminary regulations, which are an extension of President Obama’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, signed last year.

The truth is that limiting the amount of nutrient-empty food available to students is a no-cost way to help fight childhood obesity. In a testimony on federal food programs, Heritage’s Robert Rector said:

Changing the composition of foods offered by schools may have positive results on children’s weight and would not impose added costs on the taxpayer.

A great many schools are already adopting this sort of policy. What is needed here is flexibility and experimentation. There is, no need for mandatory national standards, nor for the U.S Congress to assume the role of national “cookie czar,” dictating food policies for local schools. Such a usurpation of power would be unwise and unwarranted.

Instead of the federal government attempting mandate standards for every faceless school district in the country, they should look to state and local education leaders for direction on what policies work in different areas. A school district in southern Texas is not going to need the same things as one in inner city New York. Why doesn’t the federal government make that connection?

America is fighting record debt right now – cutting costs at every available corner. Implementing this kind of unnecessary federal regulation while we are attempting to reconcile our economy is an irresponsible move at the wrong time.