Congressman challenges USDA to follow own school lunch restrictions

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Kansas Republican Tim Huelskamp issued a challenge to the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Tuesday: Adopt the same calorie restrictions and menu standards in the department’s cafeterias as the USDA now requires in the nation’s public schools.

While students pick at their vegetables, USDA’s cafeteria menus are loaded with unhealthy options for government employees — from pesto chicken pizza to BLTs with cheddar cheese, Cuban pork paninis to Philly steak subs, cheeseburgers to French toast.

“If the USDA demands that 100,000 school districts change their menus and justifies this mandate because schools receive federal money for lunches, then taxpayers should demand that the USDA cafeteria meet the same standards, as USDA operates in taxpayer-funded buildings,” Huelskamp challenged Tuesday afternoon. “Let’s see if they eat enough to function. Let’s see if they like having choices taken away from them.”

The Kansas Republican — who has introduced legislation with Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King to eliminate the new school menu guidelines, put in place as a result of the Michelle Obama backed “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” passed in 2010 and implemented this school year — issued his challenge after USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Janey Thornton encouraged parents to implement the kinds of food school cafeterias are now serving at home, on the USDA’s blog.

“We recommend reviewing school menus with kids at home and working to incorporate foods that are being served at school into family meals as much as possible,” Dr. Thornton wrote. “In many schools, parents are working through their Parent-Teacher Associations to take a lead role in helping kids adjust.”

The new lunch menus have received pushback from students and parents across the country who feel that the calorie restrictions and limits on protein and carbohydrates are leaving students, especially student athletes, hungry.

The USDA’s cafeterias are not required to adhere to the menu regulations the department is requiring schools across the country to follow.

USDA initially did not respond to TheDC’s request for comment.

Update: After publication a USDA spokesperson explained to TheDC that the new policy is not about banning food but about making the  subsidized choices healthier.”USDA has not banned any food item from schools, including cheeseburgers,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to TheDC. “The new school lunch guidelines only apply to taxpayer-subsidized meals. Schools may still sell and students may still purchase servings of any type of food in addition to the subsidized meals, but it’s just common sense that the meal paid for with hard-earned tax dollars be a healthy, balanced meal.”

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