Kids say the darndest things but I can’t imagine them trying to convince their parents to consider pizza, a vegetable. Well that’s exactly what a move in Washington is seeking to do. Stricter nutritional guidelines hailed by the Obama administration earlier this year are now under attack by Congress.
A spending bill submitted by Congress this week includes legislation that would halt guidelines to restrict sodium, limit potatoes and increase whole grains on school lunch menus nationwide.
It’s a move the Agriculture Department does not support. USDA Spokesperson Courtney Rowe said, “While it’s unfortunate that some members of Congress continue to put special interests ahead of the health of America’s children, the USDA remains committed to practical, science-based standards for school meals.”
A couple of reasons may be behind the move toward more lax nutritional guidelines for school lunches. School districts, facing tighter budgets are opting for cheaper food choices like pizzas and fries. And Congress is facing increasing pressure from lobbyists representing the potato, frozen pizza and tomato industries to back more lenient rules currently on the books.
According to USDA data, nearly 80% of Black students rely on school lunch. The impact on low-income students can be detrimental given the fact that they are more likely to depend on school lunches as part of their daily diet and tend to live in so-called food deserts where healthier food options are limited.
Linda Moore is the founder of Elise Whitlow Stokes Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. She says, “Almost 85 percent of our kids are eligible for free or reduced lunch. And this legislation will turn its back on what many school systems and principals have been advocating, which is making sure that kids get healthier meals.”
Moore says her school has found an inexpensive way to meet and exceed government guidelines while serving students three meals a day. “Our fruits, vegetables and meats are fresh and we’re doing it at less cost. Schools have to work out the numbers for themselves but we’ve proven through our schools that it can be done,” said Moore.
While Stokes Charter School is a single, stand-alone school without the massive budgetary and quantity concerns of an entire school district, Moore believes her school may serve as a model to others. “I think it’s a matter of intention. Change is not easy and we’ve put together a model that is affordable.”
As both houses of Congress poise to vote on the measure before Thanksgiving, Moore wants to send them a message: “Ultimately if you are the steward of the public good, I’d like to ask them what kind of food they’d want their own kids to eat?”
Do you think pizza should be considered a vegetable, let us know in the comments section below.
(Photo: Suzanne Plunkett/Bloomberg News/Getty Images)