After the USDA ordered schools to further reduce the fat and calories in school lunches, they were left with a teensy little problem: kids don’t like the meals and are throwing them away. Duh. Never fear … according to an article a reader sent me, the feds have come up with a solution to fix their last solution. Let’s examine the rampant stupidity at work.
There will be more whole grains on school lunch menus this year, along with a wider selection of fruits and vegetables and other healthy options.
Whole grains? I thought we were talking about healthy options.
The challenge is getting children to eat them.
Well, that’s part of what makes kids so darned frustrating: they want to eat what they like, not what committees in Washington think they should eat.
“We don’t want healthy trash cans. We want kids who are eating this stuff,” said Kern Halls, a former Disney World restaurant manager who now works in school nutrition at Orange County Public Schools in Florida.
Ms. Halls, it’s nice to know your reach exceeds your grasp, but aim for the realistic goal: Go for the healthy trash cans.
At a School Nutrition Association conference in Denver this summer, food workers heard tips about how to get children to make healthy food choices in the cafeteria.
Translation: government food workers are learning how to talk kids into ordering meals they don’t like.
The problem is a serious one for the nation’s lunch-line managers, who are implementing the biggest update to federal school-food guidelines in 15 years.
The problem became more serious after the biggest update to federal school-food guidelines in 15 years, since those guidelines call for removing the last vestiges of flavor from school food.
New Department of Agriculture guidelines taking effect this fall set calorie and sodium limits for school meals.
Brilliant. So when they leave school craving fuel and salt, the kids will run out and help support their local 7-11.
Schools must offer dark green, orange or red vegetables and legumes at least once a week, and students are required to select at least one vegetable or fruit per meal.
Kids are required to select at least one vegetable or fruit per meal? How exactly is that rule going to be enforced? What if Little Johnny tells the cafeteria worker he doesn’t like the fat-free broccoli or the peaches in heavy syrup? Does he have to stay after school? Does a cafeteria enforcement officer put the vegetable on his plate and “invite” him to eat it in the same way the governments “invite” businesses to follow federal regulations?
Flavored milk must be nonfat, and there’s a ban on artificial, artery-clogging trans fats.
I see. Since too many kids are overweight, we’re going prevent them from consuming any appetite-controlling fat when they drink that appetite-stimulating sugar in the strawberry milk. Once again, the local 7-11 or other nearby snack store thanks you.
At the conference, Halls demonstrated some healthy recipes for curious cafeteria managers, joining White House chef Sam Kass to prepare a veggie wrap using a whole-wheat tortilla.
And afterwards, the curious cafeteria managers went out to restaurant for some real food.
Halls’ main mission, though, was not pushing new recipes but teaching cafeteria managers marketing strategies used to great success by private-sector restaurants and food producers. The first step, cafeteria workers were told, is to stop thinking of lunchtime as a break from academics, but a crucial part of a child’s school day.
When I was in grade school, we thought of lunchtime as a time to eat lunch. That worked out pretty well, actually, because our moms packed lunches we liked.
“Your job is not to serve kids food.”
“Your job is motivate kids to be adventurous and healthy eaters,” said Barb Mechura, head of nutrition services at schools in Hopkins, Minn.
Translation: your job is to harangue kids into eating low-fat crap they don’t like.
Her school district recruited parent volunteers to be elementary-school “food coaches,” touring cafeterias and handing out samples of fruits and vegetables. The food coaches would also demonstrate eating them.
The feds have finally figured out why kids don’t eat fat-free vegetables: they don’t know how. Once they see a demonstration by a coach, that will all change.
“Look, Billy! We’re supposed to put the dry broccoli in our mouths and chew it! Wait until I go home and show this to my mom!”
Food coaching may seem silly …
Do ya think?
… but kids who have had chicken only as nuggets or patties may not know how to eat bone-in chicken and need to see how a grown-up eats it before trying it themselves.
I’m pretty sure the average kid could figure out how to eat a chicken leg without a lesson from a coach.
As the kids graduate to middle and high schools, and grown-ups in the cafeteria aren’t as welcome, schools can tap student ambassadors to be food coaches …
School paper headline of the future: SCHOOL LUNCH AMBASSADOR FOUND STUFFED IN TRASH CAN.
… perhaps asking the baseball team or a popular student athlete dish out veggies.
If the popular athlete wants to stay popular, he won’t go around telling other high-school kids to eat their vegetables.
Or, high school seniors might give underclassmen samples of a new vegetable coming to the cafeteria.
Upperclassmen have been known to hand out samples to incoming freshmen, but trust me, it’s not that kind of vegetable matter.
School cafeterias also are using cutting-edge market research. They’re filming what kids eat, test-marketing new products before they go on the line and doing menu surveys to find out exactly what students think about a dish’s taste, appearance and temperature.
Is This tastes like @#$% an option on the survey?
You get the idea. Since pushing low-fat milk and healthywholegrains for the past two decades has demonstrably failed to make kids leaner, the USDA has of course decided this merely proves we need to do it again, only bigger. Hmmm, this is sounding more and more like a perfect federal program: complicated, expensive, based on bad ideas and therefore doomed to fail. Since the stated goal here is to turn the tide on childhood obesity, perhaps we should hop in a time machine and visit one of my grade-school teachers. After all, we didn’t have a childhood obesity problem in 1966.
(Buzz. Whir. Buzz. Zing. And other time-machine noises.)
“Mrs. Owens! Mrs. Owens! Hey, it’s me, little Tommy Naughton.”
“Well, hello, Tommy. Funny, I don’t remember you being bald.”
“Yeah, that came later. Listen, I need your advice.”
“Stay in school and keep studying math.”
“I did that, thanks. What I need to know now is what you’re doing to keep all these kids so skinny – well, except for Brett Collins, of course.”
“Poor Brett. I wish you boys wouldn’t call him The Seal.”
“He seems to like the nickname. Anyway, what’s the secret? How are you, as a school official, keeping these kids from becoming overweight?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Well, I mean, the school must check our lunches and make sure we’re not consuming too much sodium or too many calories, right?”
“Why on earth would we do that? These are growing children.”
“But you at least watch our fat intake, right? Skim milk and all that?”
“Skim milk?! If we started serving skim at milk time, the parents would stop giving the children their milk money. I wouldn’t want to be at the next PTA meeting if we made these kids drink skim milk in school.”
“So what’s your secret? What’s the protocol for school lunches?”
“Well, it works like this, Little Tommy. We stop classes for 45 minutes. The kids eat lunch. Then we start classes again.”
“And you don’t do anything to ensure that the kids don’t become fat?”
“Of course not. This is a school, not a diet center.”
“Sounds like an excellent program.”
When I was in grade school, nobody thought about how many calories we were consuming. Nobody watched our fat intake. Nobody ordered us to eat whole grains or a serving of fruit or vegetables. We just ate lunch. And yet somehow, nearly all of us (Brett Collins notwithstanding) were skinny kids.
Asking the USDA to solve childhood obesity is like asking the guy who cleaned out your bank account for financial advice.