Kids are rejecting school lunch mandates, adults should too

Karen Schroeder | President, Advocates for Academic Freedom

During the 1950s, school lunches were prepared on site. Children enjoyed the smell of baking bread and roasted meats which wetted their appetites. Jell-O filled with fruit, hot dishes containing corn, green beans, and carrots, topped with tatter tots, sweet potatoes and ham smothered in raisin sauce, big chunks of chicken with gravy over mashed potatoes; creamed tuna on shoe string potatoes were among the favorite menus. All meals were served with vegetables and fruit. The menus were so popular many recipes were reprinted in local newspapers.

School boards across the United States are currently working on budgets and analyzing their expenditures. The cost of school lunches plays an important role in balancing them. The Rice Lake, Wisconsin, school district is a microcosm of districts across America. Their students are tossing the cauliflower and broccoli and turning their noses up at the offer of endless fruit and vegetables. The federal program requires schools to provide less protein, and all recipes used by the district must be approved by the federal government.

Corn, one of the few vegetables enjoyed by most children, was discouraged by the federal government because it is too high in carbohydrates. Some cooks wonder whether the real reason is that the federal government wants the corn to be used to dilute gasoline rather than feed our children.

Parents are complaining that their children are starving by the end of the school day. This is a typical consequence when the federal government takes control of anything. An inordinate amount of money is spent, but the goal is not met.

Of course, the real reason kids are hungry is that they aren’t as keen on their new federally-regulated diets as the First Lady, and one-size-fits-all regulations are unsuited for meeting their needs. American children ages five to eighteen are rejecting the new school lunch program, even as adults quake in fear of being punished with the loss of federal dollars.

The Rice Lake school district serves 2,320 students from kindergarten through grade twelve. The school board is hesitant to walk away from the $350,000 to $400,000 federal dollars they would lose if the district contracts with a private group to provide more child-friendly lunches. When the federal government enforces a policy through the selective disbursement of tax dollars, coercion is the result.

What has happened to the American adult? Why would we subjugate ourselves in this way? This level of government control angered the Founders so much that they left their homes, families, and country to travel to an unknown land to make their own decisions.

With confidence worthy of them, our school board members should do what is right for the children and tell the federal government to stay out of their food-service programs. They should tell the federal government to respect the fact that Americans care about the good health of our children and can manage without their help.

School boards across America need to remind the federal government that the dollars used to support the school lunch program and the bureaucracy to control and monitor it originated in states and local communities just like Rice Lake. They should demand that the federal government stop taxing citizens to manipulate school lunch programs, so the money can be spent at the local level to provide high quality lunches to our children.

If our federal government really cared about the weight problems facing our children, they would offer tax incentives for additional physical education time, with a focus on exercise and games that burn calories. Schools would find time if they could exercise local control of their school.

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