Candice Miller for Congress, Michigan

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School lunch v. the Nanny State

by Candice Miller on February 25, 2014


Certainly not the adults who actually work in our Michigan schools or the locally elected school board members who adopt district meal policies.

For generations, they have done their best to offer school meals that are affordable, nutritious and palatable.

But that’s not good enough for the federal government.

With a wave of new mandates and regulations arising out of the mis-named Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (which I opposed), school breakfast and lunch programs have become a maze of required calorie counts, colors and portion sizes.

These nanny state regulations are ostensibly aimed at ensuring the meals students consume at school provide balanced nutrition and deter childhood obesity.

What they in fact ensure is that public school officials spend countless hours complying with bureaucratic guidelines for the production of meals that students increasingly don’t want to eat. (For an amusing take on the subject, see the YouTube video “We Are Hungry”) Nutritional outcomes don’t improve when kids shun school meals in favor of the potato chips and pop they can pick up across the street.

Fitzgerald Public School administrators say the new guidelines represent a maddening overreach by distant federal officials with little or no understanding of how kids actually behave.

“We welcome healthy foods. We want our meals to be nutritious. But the goal should be to serve food they want to eat,” said one administrator.

According to an administrator at L’anse Creuse, the new requirements came with a six cent per meal supplement from the feds, but the additional cost of complying is in the neighborhood of 14-25 cents per meal. Worse yet, fewer kids are taking breakfast and/or lunch at school and pitching more leftovers in the trash.

School supervisors have better things to do than spending more and more time and resources policing the lunchroom or resolving disputes about how much ranch dressing students should be allowed to consume with their raw carrots (true story). Federal agricultural officials have more important concerns than issuing decrees about whether cupcakes can be sold at local PTO fundraisers.

That’s why I support legislation introduced in Congress last fall by Rep. Kristi Noem, of South Dakota, that would curb federal food mandates. H.R. 3663 would permanently ease restrictions on the amount of calories from meat and grain allowed in school meals (restrictions suspended by the Department of Agriculture after school food service directors pointed out they were unworkable). It would also prohibit the department from imposing food rules that increase uncompensated costs for school districts.

We all want our children to have healthy, well-balanced diets. We want, and local officials strive every day to provide, schools that promote healthy lifestyles. What we don’t want is a federal government that thinks it alone can prescribe one-size-fits-all rules that will make those kind of things happen.

As every parent knows, it’s hard enough to convince a child to eat his or her vegetables from a seat across the dinner table. When the order comes from Washington D.C., kids don’t even hear it.

Congresswoman Candice Miller, R-Shelby Township, represents Michigan’s 10th District.

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