It’s been said that American schools have the healthiest trash cans in the world.
An appalling amount of food, starting with healthy fruits and vegetables, gets discarded in school lunchrooms all across the country. Some items don’t even get opened.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that $5 million worth of edible food is wasted every day in the National School Lunch Program. This amounts to $1.2 billion a year, a figure that’s hard to stomach when budgets are stretched and too many Americans still experience hunger and shortages of food.
One month ago, the USDA announced a rollback on healthy school lunch standards. The new rules, when they become final, will loosen requirements on fruits and vegetables and give school districts more flexibility on what to serve students. Some entrees could be served a la carte, potentially reducing waste.
These new rules follow changes in 2019 to remove restrictions on sodium and types of milk that can be served.
“Schools and school districts continue to tell us that there is still too much food waste and that more common-sense flexibility is needed to provide students nutritious and appetizing meals,” Agriculture Director Sonny Perdue said in a statement.
It was well-meaning but futile to envision the school lunch program as a vehicle for instilling healthy eating habits in America’s children, especially when the bell rings and these students re-enter the world of fast food, chips and pop. The goal should be getting all children to eat something that’s reasonably healthy but also appealing enough to not wind up in the garbage.
If schools and lunchroom personnel, who see these students every day, are able to conjure up something better than bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., then it’s worth a try. A lot of parents would be pleased to get a child to eat one spoonful of peas, let alone the amount piled on the plates in a typical school cafeteria.
Like anything in Washington, this issue tends to be viewed through a partisan lens. The previous food standards were issued during the Obama era, and the dismantling comes via the current administration. President Trump’s decision to announce the changes on Michelle Obama’s birthday came across as a mean-spirited and unnecessary dig, but that doesn’t change the reality that too many children don’t care if the proposal comes from a Democrat or a Republican, as long as it contains chicken nuggets.
It is discouraging, but not surprising, to see that a political divide has now emerged on an issue as bland as school lunches.
But whatever you think of the USDA’s proposed new rules, we’d encourage you to go to your local school at lunchtime, look in the trash can and see for yourself how the old ones are working out.