New USDA school guidelines not palatable for all

The newly unveiled U.S. Department of Agriculture nutritional requirements for healthier school breakfasts and lunches may seem visionary to some, but for food service insiders, the juice may not be worth the squeeze.

Melissa Kandel/MEDILL

“Healthy food doesn’t matter if kids don’t eat it,” says Kyle Schafer, spokesman for The Real Food, Real Jobs union protecting Chicago public school lunchroom workers. (Coincidentally, the lunch ladies voiced their own cafeteria concerns the same day the guidelines were released.)

Schafer notes that while the union “very much” supports the plan, it also recognizes that workers should be taught more about healthy cooking and eating so they can then pass that knowledge on to skeptical students.

Others, like Robert Rector, senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, oppose the estimated $3.2 billion program entirely. Rector, reached by phone, dismisses its purported benefits–namely decreasing childhood obesity and increasing academic performance–as “largely mythological,” and without any scientific support.

Rector explains that research on scholastic improvements linked to school food plans is so scant because no student can legally be denied the program in order to create the control group necessary to test its potency.

As for any weight decreases, evidence suggests only a slight drop in the mean body mass index of those participating in school breakfast programs and no change in that same number for students eating the lunches provided.

“I don’t think that an apple a day will reduce a child’s BMI index,” Rector says, “but we can certainly spend a lot of money doing it.”

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