Children and parents across the country are fed up with the restrictive new school meal regulations implemented by the Department of Agriculture under the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010,” which has long been touted by first lady Michelle Obama.
The standards — which cap meal calories at 650 for students in kindergarten through fifth grade, at 700 calories for middle school students and 850 for high school students — also dictate the number of breads, proteins, vegetables and fruits children are allowed per meal.
A spokeswoman for Kansas Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who earlier this month introduced legislation to roll back the new standards, told The Daily Caller that Huelskamp’s office has heard more complaints about the issue during the past few weeks than any other.
“This year, we’ll be hungry by 2:00,” one student, Zach Eck, told KAKETV in Kansas. “We would eat our pencils at school if they had nutritional value.”
Iowa mom Robin Wissink told TheDC that she now provides her autistic daughter Molly, a junior in high school, with a bag lunch because her school’s new menu is so unappealing. Students at St. Mark’s in Colwich, Kan. have also been “brown bagging” their meals.
And some student-athletes in Wisconsin are arguing that the calorie caps hit them especially hard, given their intense workouts and scrimmages.
“A lot of us are starting to get hungry even before the practice begins,” Mukwonago High senior Nick Blohm told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Our metabolisms are all sped up.”
The new lunch standards have led to the removal of some old food favorites, including a particularly popular item at one school in upstate New York: chicken nuggets.
“Now they’re kind of forcing all the students to get the vegetables and fruit with their lunch, and they took out chicken nuggets this year, which I’m not too happy about,” Chris Cimino, a senior at Mohonasen High School in upstate New York, told the Associated Press, which gave the rules a “mixed grade.”
Students in the Plum Borough School District in Pennsylvania are protesting the new federal restrictions on Twitter.
“everyone.. if you agree school lunches are expensive and small, RT this. we can fight the school! tweet #BrownBagginIt,” @TornadoBoyTubbs tweeted, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Administrators have scrambled to find creative ways to make the new menus appealing. A school district in Lake County, Fla., for example, is planning to conduct a survey to determine how to make vegetables more appealing to children, who often throw them out.
“[The regulations do] limit the food that you can put on the plate,” Alden Caldwell, the director of food services at a Brookline, Mass. school, told Wicked Local. “In theory, it’s a good idea, but in practice we’re finding that there are issues with it.”
Despite the outrage, some parents believe the ongoing obesity epidemic justifies the tight calorie standards.
“I think it’s smart to be pre-emptive and proactive at getting more nutrition fed into the kids,” Amos Johnson, a parent with students in the Lee Summit, Missouri school system, told the Lee’s Summit Journal. “I see that more as a multi-beneficial supporter for health and academic performance. I think that’s the thing I would look at. You should be healthier, and if you’re nourishing the brain and getting the fuel right, academic outcomes should maintain or improve.”
When the legislation was signed into law in 2010, it received bipartisan support, including a big endorsement from Michelle Obama.
“As parents, we try to prepare decent meals, limit how much junk food our kids eat, and ensure they have a reasonably balanced diet,” the first lady said in a statement at the unveiling of the new standards in January. “And when we’re putting in all that effort the last thing we want is for our hard work to be undone each day in the school cafeteria. When we send our kids to school, we expect that they won’t be eating the kind of fatty, salty, sugary foods that we try to keep them from eating at home. We want the food they get at school to be the same kind of food we would serve at our own kitchen tables.”
Obama welcomed students back to school this year with a YouTube video explaining the importance of the new meal plans.
Watch: Michelle Obama discusses ‘exciting’ changes to school cafeterias
Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King and Huelskamp introduced the “No Hungry Kids Act,” which would repeal the USDA rule that resulted in the new standards, last week.
“The goal of the school lunch program is supposed to be feeding children, not filling the trash cans with uneaten food,” Huelskamp said in a statement. “The USDA’s new school lunch guidelines are a perfect example of what is wrong with government: misguided inputs, tremendous waste, and unaccomplished goals. Thanks to the Nutrition Nannies at the USDA, America’s children are going hungry at school.”
Correction: Huelskamp’s office received the high volume of response, not King’s.