School Lunches are About to Get a Lot Healthier

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By Katherine Mangu-Ward

School lunch is one place where government action to slim down America's fat tykes actually makes sense.

Millions of kids jam state-selected food down their gullets every day, sometimes two meals a day. Most kids have two choices; whatever their local public school cafeteria dishes out, or what their moms packed at home (although increasingly, the options of what their moms are permitted to send from home are limited). For kids who get subsidized lunch, it's school lunch or bust. And school lunches are terrible. They have been for a long time.

Now—if the U.S. Department of Agriculture has its way—kids will now get lunches with more and better veggies (including one serving of "orange vegetables" a week), less salt, low-fat milk, and fewer french fries. Some of the requirements kick in quickly, others will phase in on a 10-year plan. Pretty commonsense stuff, but surprisingly hard for districts to implement on their own. Local districts are hemmed in by federal standards and policies that make innovation difficult, plus requirements to use USDA surplus goods.

New nutrition standards for lunches provided to kids with limited options in public school buildings and paid for in taxpayer dollars were long overdue. Naturally, they're also being overhyped.

This is the "first major improvement" in the standards that "we've seen in a generation, and it reflects the seriousness of the issue of obesity," says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

There have been an awful lot of "major improvements" designed to address the problem of childhood obesity in the last generation—from the fancy-pants lunches Obama's kids eat at Sidwell Friends school, all the way down to apple slices and milk in the Happy Meals at McDonald's—but the wheels of government turn slowly, and perhaps none more slowing than the Department of Agriculture.

And it's only taken a generation to get around to start phasing in a plan to limit taxpayer subsidized daily french fries for the nation's public school piggies! Major.



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