USDA on school lunches: Stop complaining

Rik Dalvit/For the Capital Press


Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan wants everyone to know: Despite what some people who are eating school lunches say, USDA's new guidelines for school lunches provide students just what they need.

In 2010, a Democratic-led Congress approved school lunch calorie guidelines that limit high school lunches to no more than 825 calories. USDA has rewritten rules governing school lunch programs, increasing the quantity of fruits and vegetables and limiting the amount of protein and carbohydrates.

"We feel very strongly our new school food rules are backed by science," Merrigan said in response to a question at the recent United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association public policy conference in Washington. "We are seeing great enthusiasm, not just among the kids, but among the school lunch professionals."

Not everyone is enthusiastic.

Last month the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture said the guidelines are well-intentioned, but ill-conceived. It issued a resolution against "restrictive dietary guidelines on meat protein and calories served through the national school lunch and breakfast program that do not take into consideration individual needs, especially those of physically active and growing students."

And, as we reported in this space last week, high school athletes across the country have complained that a 825-calorie lunch short on protein and carbohydrates leaves them flagging at the end of the day. Given their high-energy workouts, these kids can burn through 3,000 calories.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack took the complaints so seriously that the department is working on a snack program to supplement the school lunch program.

But Merrigan doesn't seem convinced. She said opposition to the new guidelines is based on the fear of change, not fact.

"Fear not that kids get adequate nutrition," she said. "We have done our homework."

So, the rumble these complainers hear is in their heads, not their stomachs. The government scientists and Washington bureaucrats say so, and that should be good enough for anyone.

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