The USDA Backs Off (sort of) On School Lunches

      23 Comments on The USDA Backs Off (sort of) On School Lunches

Here’s some good news … sort of.  The USDA has backed off its strict limits on school lunches:

The Agriculture Department is responding to criticism over new school lunch rules by allowing more grains and meat in kids’ meals.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told members of Congress in a letter Friday that the department will do away with daily and weekly limits of meats and grains. Several lawmakers wrote the department after the new rules went into effect in September saying kids aren’t getting enough to eat.

School administrators also complained, saying set maximums on grains and meats are too limiting as they try to plan daily meals.

Why is this only “sort of” good news?  Because when our overlords listen to our complaints, it’s an improvement … but they’re still our overlords and shouldn’t be.  Keep reading:

“This flexibility is being provided to allow more time for the development of products that fit within the new standards while granting schools additional weekly menu planning options to help ensure that children receive a wholesome, nutritious meal every day of the week,” Vilsack said in a letter to Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

Well, gee, that’s just awesomely wonderful of USDA officials sitting in Washington to provide some flexibility while telling school officials in my little town in Tennessee what they may and may not serve to kids in our local schools.  All hail Big Brother!  He listened to his subjects!

The new guidelines were intended to address increasing childhood obesity levels.

Yeah, and the taxpayer loan to Solyndra was intended to produce a successful solar company.  I don’t give a rat’s @$$ how good our overlords’ intentions are.

They set limits on calories and salt, and phase in more whole grains. Schools must offer at least one vegetable or fruit per meal. The department also dictated how much of certain food groups could be served.

What do we call people who dictate what their subjects can and can’t do?  I know there’s a noun …

While nutritionists and some parents have praised the new school lunch standards, others, including many conservative lawmakers, refer to them as government overreach. Yet many of those same lawmakers also have complained about hearing from constituents who say their kids are hungry at school.

I’ve read that paragraph several times and still can’t figure out what the writer intended to convey with the word “yet,” which suggests a “on the hand, but on the other hand” type of inconsistency.  You know, something like “He doesn’t trust doctors, yet he takes his Lipitor religiously.”  So we have legislators getting upset about government overreach and yet they complain about hearing from angry constituents?  Are those two behaviors somehow inconsistent?

The new tweak doesn’t upset nutritionists who fought for the school lunch overhaul.

Margo Wootan, a nutrition lobbyist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says the change is minor and the new guidance shows that USDA will work with school nutrition officials and others who have concerns.

“It takes time to work out the kinks,” Wootan said. “This should show Congress that they don’t need to interfere legislatively.”

Translation:  we don’t want representatives of the people getting involved in our plans to tell the people what they can and cannot serve to children in school.

How’s how we could work out the kinks without it taking a lot of time, Margo:  We announce that bureaucrats in Washington are no more qualified than local officials or — egads! — parents to decide what kids should eat.  (I know trying to wrap your brain around the idea that sitting at a desk in the nation’s capital doesn’t confer special wisdom on a person could cause your head to explode, but go with me on this.)  Then we tell the USDA to stick to what it’s actually competent to do:  suck up billions of taxpayer dollars to subsidize large agribusiness corporations like ADM and “farmers” like Scottie Pippen and Ted Turner.

Sen. Hoeven, who had written Vilsack to express concern about the rules, said he will be supportive of the meals overhaul if the USDA continues to be flexible when problems arise.

And there’s the problem, Senator:  you don’t mind the USDA dictating to local schools as long as the dictators are flexible.


23 thoughts on “The USDA Backs Off (sort of) On School Lunches

  1. Joanne

    This is one of the reasons why I will ALWAYS make my kids lunches and they will never eat a school lunch!!! I’ll keep control of food choices in my family thank you very much!!

    Our girls take a lunch to school as well. So far, nobody’s confiscated their meat rollups and made them eat chicken nuggets.

  2. Kim

    Spot on and entertaining as always, Tom! Thank God (is that allowed here?) I can take a nutritious lunch to work everyday. Some kids can’t even do that….they get confiscated.

    Yes, thanking God is allowed here. I’m not religious, but I’m not anti-religion either.

  3. js290

    “The system’s broke, Hank. The election baby has peed in the bath water. You got to throw ’em both out.” –Dale Gribble


  4. booboo

    Tom! You’re getting way too wound up about this, as evidenced by all the grammatical errors in your second to last paragraph :). Just home school those kids of yours, watch them grow up healthy due to AVOIDING the feds’ advice, and pat yourself on the back. You’re going to give yourself a heart attack worrying about this crap, and they’re going to blame paleo! Then where will we be?

    ARGH! That’s what happens when I re-write a sentence two or three times. I leave in words I meant to take out or change, then my brain sees what I think I wrote. Fixed now.

  5. AnaLucia

    Mr.Norton. I’m hoping you can help me understand this controversy over USDA control of school lunches. I am new to this country, I live in upstate NY and have been reading about school problems with alarm.
    Here’s what I don’t understand, we pay big property taxes where I live and it was explained to me it’s because of the very good local schools. In our local middle and high-schools the children pay $3.25 for the feature of the day which includes a dessert and can pay extra small charges for anything more a la carte. The cafeteria serves them as much of whatever they want to pay for.
    I don’t understand how the USDA therefore controls what kids eat? Is it different in other states, are the schools not locally funded and run? Have they given up local control for extra federal funding or something like that? Or is everyone talking about the federally funded ‘lunch program’ for low income kids? Can you help me, I’m confused, alarmed (can it happen here!) and local friends give me conflicting answers on this.

    The USDA imposes its guidelines on schools that receive any federal school-lunch subsidies. Since most schools receive at least some subsidies, that means they can dictate to pretty much all the public schools. So of course we could say the schools should just refuse the money — but we’re not given the option to pay the taxes that provide the money in the first place. It would be like this: I confiscate $500 per month from you, which strains your household budget. Then I generously offer to subsidize your grocery bill with a $300 monthly allowance of food stamps … but I apply all kinds of restrictions to what you can buy with the food stamps. After all, I’m “giving” you the money, right?

  6. desmond

    I eagerly await reading the daily food logs of the people who authorize and implement these regulations. But I doubt they keep logs, probably because 99% don’t follow themselves what they mandate to others. They allow themselves “flexibility.” There is a noun for that too, and it begins with an H…


  7. carole

    I work with special ed students at an elementary school. The breakfasts and lunches are pretty bad when looked at through a low-carb lens. Everything is whole grain; I didn’t even know whole wheat Pop-Tarts existed, and yes, they are a staple of the breakfast menu. Along with whole wheat donuts, whole wheat muffins, etc. A typical breakfast is one of these carb bombs, a banana, low-fat milk and a box of juice. Other days they may get a pre-measured box of sugary cereal along with a box of juice and a packet of graham crackers plus a juice box and milk.Rarely do they have eggs, and when they do the kids mostly throw them away (along with the whole wheat muffin thing which is baked in the shape of a goldfish cracker…evidently so the kids will accep this as a familiar food). For lunch the other day they served teriyaki beef over noodles, heavy on the noodles (whole wheat, of course) but light on the beef. Some soggy vegs that were allegedly stir-fried, a slab of cake (the cake contained sweet potatoes, so it must be healthy), the low-fat milk, and an option to use the salad bar. The cafeteria workers are strict about following the government guidelines as to requiring each student to take either a fruit or a veg at lunch, but no one can require the kids to eat what they take. So the trash cans are pretty full of the fresh stuff.
    Because my students are in special education for behavior issues, I’d love to see what would happen if we fed them no grains at all and lots of protein and fat. But it won’t happen any time soon, I’m sure.
    I, personally, am amazed at what poor eaters many of the kids are. I raised three sons myself and they ate pretty much anything offered to them. But these kids from all economic ranges are extremely picky and often throw away the whole tray of food, even when they come from a home where they qualify for free school food. I know if I’d been offered a donut when I was at school, I’d’ve been delighted, but many of these kids will leave it untouched or just take a small bite or two. Related to this subject, there is no rhyme or reason to the different sizes/weights of the students: the plumper ones throw away as much food as the slim ones. Some of the slim ones are voracious eaters. But of course, the slim ones feel justified in mocking the fatter ones because they already know that fat people are less valuable than slim ones. Didn’t mean to make such a long comment; I just had a lot to say.

  8. Phyllis Mueller

    I thought this sentence was horrifying and revealing:
    “This flexibility is being provided to allow more time for the development of products that fit within the new standards…” Products? Real foods aren’t “products,” and they don’t need “development.”

    Indeed. And of course, they don’t think the guidelines are the problem … it’s a lack of products that fit the guidelines.

  9. Galina L.

    I am pretty much sure that the “pickyness” in the children is the direct result of them eating food designed particularly for children with too much sugar and junk food with too much flavor and drinking sugary drinks all day long.
    It is a mystery for me why some (who are not drug addicts or mentally ill) manage to have hungry kids in the US.
    I recently came back from a long visit to Russia, with a short side trip to Turkey and Israel. People eat crap everywhere to the addition of their native food, but only US crowd has an unusually high amount of fat people. Maybe there are more people here who eat crap exclusively, and most of crap-eaters are children.

  10. janet

    Lot’s of overreaction going on, including you, Tom sweetie. Don’t listen so much to FAUX (FOX) News??? either. By your talking point of Solyndra (a program started by Bush) I can tell you might be sniffing the fumes there. Tsk, tsk. Take some advice from a granny who has seen and heard a lot.

    But, as good news–my cousin, desperate for a change in his health, has actually taken my advice and watched Fat Head and is getting Wheat Belly. Stay tuned. I think this effort on my part to help someone may stick. He lives in another state so can’t see what a babe his cousin has become–well a 64 year old gal can still be a Paleo babe if onlookers squint their eyes a tad. Cheers and HEALTHY HOLIDAYS TO ONE AND ALL HERE!

    Surely you don’t think Fox News made up the Solyndra debacle. Here’s an article from that staunch right-wing paper The Washington Post:

    I also sincerely hope you don’t mistake me for a fan of George W. Bush — a man who called himself a fiscal conservative and then spent money like he’d gone bar-hopping with Ted Kennedy.

  11. Mark

    “Yet many of those same lawmakers also have complained about hearing from constituents who say their kids are hungry at school.”

    I agree this doesn’t make sense as written. My take on what was meant:

    “Yet many of those same lawmakers also have complained on behalf of constituents who say their kids are hungry at school.”

    So the lawmakers condemn government overreach, but are guilty of overreach by complaining on behalf of constituents. That’s the only way I can get it to make sense.

    It’s a stretch, but possible.

  12. Grant

    The writer used ” yet” because he was insinuating that the politicians were only demanding the guidelines be changed because they wanted to placate their constituencies (as opposed to only wanting to make sure kids were eating right). In other words: the sentence was intended to cause doubt about the validity of the opposition to the guidelines by pointing out that the politicians had a self-interested motive. For most people, knowing that one is present automatically invalidates whatever it is someone is advocating. Most people believe that if its good for you, its bad for me – and if you say otherwise, youre lying. The notion of a win-win, quid pro quo is completely off their radar. It was a way to help defend the new guidelines (not to mention the premise of government authority in this area) without having to actually argue for them. Its using morality as a weapon.

  13. George @ the High Fat hep C Diet

    Does anyone know the historical reason why the Department of Agriculture is in charge of nutritional decisions? I’m pretty sure this is a unique situation anywhere in the world. In N.Z. the Ministry of Health makes a pig’s arse of it (“to prevent weight gain, fill up on bread, potatoes and rice”), which is probably the usual situation, and is at least at a remove from the producers of food and food products.

    The stated reason is to improve our health. The real reason is that by dictating food choices, the USDA can ensure that plenty of the farm products it subsidizes are sold.

  14. Melinda P

    Stepping back from the “Big Brother” view for a moment (I know, it’s pointless). Why can’t parents decide what the school will serve for lunches through a more democratic process, like, um… voting on menu standards for their individual schools? Wouldn’t that decrease the number of complaints the government gets, because then it would be the local community’s fault if people are not happy and the community would then have to deal with it on a local level? Wouldn’t it lighten the USDA’s workload? I mean, do they ENJOY more headache and more work??? I know, these questions are moot, cuz it’s all about the money and the power. And apparently the government thinks we are all too stupid to make decisions. About anything. Yes, they ARE overlords, blah!

    Yes, they think parents and local officials are too stupid to make those decisions.

  15. Firebird

    “I also sincerely hope you don’t mistake me for a fan of George W. Bush — a man who called himself a fiscal conservative and then spent money like he’d gone bar-hopping with Ted Kennedy.”

    Drunken sailors know when to stop drinking because they’ve run out of money.

    Good point. It’s worse when you can keep borrowing from the Chinese and continue the binge.

  16. Elenor

    “It’s worse when you can keep borrowing from the Chinese and continue the binge.”

    Or print more on your own. Well, actually, get your overseas (twice-removed) cousin to print more and “lend” it to you at interest…

    Indeed. But when that cousin decides to stop buying your IOUs, it’ll get reeeeeeal interesting.

  17. The Older Brother


    Why should parents “vote” up the menu standards for their schools? I’m not saying more local isn’t slightly less stupid, but don’t you think in a vote the average parent would be all in for hearthealthywholegrains and demand less arterycloggingsaturatedfat for their kids. Which is okay, but they’d also be voting for what your kids get, too.

    Here’s a radical idea.

    What if we all decided to pretend for a couple of semesters that it isn’t the job of schools to feed children — that if you’ve brought children into this world, feeding them is part of the deal?

    They can brown-bag it, or schools could rent their kitchen facilities out to for-profit vendors. That way, each and every kid gets to “vote” for exactly the menu they want. (If you insist, give the poor kids a voucher for the cafeteria, but I guarantee you’ll end up with the same crap in five years or less as the pols attach more and more conditions to the vouchers.)

    I know, never happen.


  18. Lucky Joestar

    I work in Japan as an elementary school English teacher, and the teachers eat the (carbohydrate-rich) school lunches with the kids. Starting winter term, though, I’m going to stop eating the school lunches and start bringing my own box lunch. So far, I’ve been cutting out the breads and rice served with the lunches, but they still have other carbs snuck in there in the form of stuff like potatoes and corn, so you can’t induction-phase on that stuff.

  19. G.

    This reminds me… This morning I heard on NPR how boys were hitting puberty earlier than they used to (and everyone knows girls are hitting puberty way too early, too). They said that this was because of obesity thanks to the increased availability of foods high in saturated fat and protein. Yes, fat and protein cause early puberty now. And of course they had NO evidence to back this up – just a ridiculous claim.

    Doesn’t surprise me. Since we eat less saturated fat than people did in previous generations, you have to wonder where the heck they came up with that one.


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