On the way home from court today, I nearly ran my car off the road when I heard that the Trump administration relaxed federal rules about school lunches.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue blamed healthy food for discouraging consumption. At least, that’s how it sounded to me. His actual words:
“If kids aren’t eating the food, and it’s ending up in the trash, they aren’t getting any nutrition — thus undermining the intent of the program,” said Perdue, who traveled to a school in Leesburg, Virginia, to make the announcement.
I corrected my swerve, shaking my head. Good Lord almighty, I said outloud, to no one.
Is our Secretary of Agriculture so uninformed as to believe that healthy food cannot taste good, perforce, if you serve healthy food, then kids will not eat it?
The PBS article continues by stating that whole grain grits have little black flecks which children do not like. Fair enough. I’m not a fan of grits myself. I realize people in the south adore them. In fact, when I lived in Arkansas, I learned that the three major food groups were grits, grease, and gravy. But relaxing the rules on serving whole grains seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Perhaps instead of allowing schools to receive federal money even if they utilize processed, high sodium food, we should consider funding nutrition and culinary lessons for school cooks. I fed my son whole grain bread his entire life. He attended a pre-school where they ate without protest whatever was served, and as far as I know they were not physically abused. The kids adored their teacher. She fed them foods that corresponded with the letter of the week — Avocado, artichoke, Borscht, broccoli, carrots, cucumbers. . . you get the picture.
Surprise, surprise, Secretary Perdue: Healthy food, including whole grains, can be delicious even to children if the person who prepares the food has the skills and knowledge to do it well.
I’ve abandoned hope that the current administration will apply logic and reason to what they do. I can’t stomach hearing the president. He sounds petulant and stoned in turns. I turn away. I’ve stopped listening to NPR in the morning. The erosion of our American values frightens me. With each new announcement, I shudder and cover my ears.
But when the administration attacks such solid rules encouraging progress in how America nourishes its future, my skin crawls and I realize that I must protest — even though I’m convinced that no one in Washington cares what any of us think.
For the record, then: You are what you eat. Healthy food has been demonstrated to increase student performance. See, e.g., Caldwell D, Nestle M, Rogers W. School nutrition services. In: Marx E, Wooley SF, Northrop D, editors. Health Is Academic: A Guide to Coordinated School Health Programs. New York, NY: Teachers College Press; 1998. pp. 195–223. “Nutrition has been called the single greatest environmental influence on babies in the womb and during infancy 1, and it remains essential throughout the first years of life.” The Urban Child Institute, Nutrition and Early Brain Development, 25 March 2011.
Moreover, studies have shown that making healthy food available for school lunches does make a difference:
“Increased availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products as components of school meals may be an effective strategy to promote healthy eating behaviors among children. Improving the nutrition standards for foods offered in competition with federally reimbursable school meals may enhance the positive effects of school meal programs on student eating behavior.”
Yet rather than applying its considerable power to helping schools comply with the regulations that have been in place for five years while still satisfying their students’ desire for deliciousness, the current administration scraps the pivotal portions of the rules. Go ahead and give them processed flour and salty snacks, Perdue seems to be saying. Better they eat junk than don’t eat! Not true, sir; not true.
When my mother-in-law grew weak enough to decline healthy food, I encouraged my father-in-law to let her enjoy the ice cream bars with which he had been trying to bribe her. “Calories is calories,” I assured him.
While it might be true for a frail, elderly woman, that principle does not apply to children. They need to consume calories that count. Good nutrition promotes their development and hence their success. Our last president and his entire administration understood the difference. Evidently that understanding has left the building.