NOEM: Time to serve up better school lunch standards
As all parents know, no two kids are exactly alike. I have three kids. Kassidy takes after her father. She is a natural-born athlete. Kennedy, on the other hand, is more like me. She plays sports too, but she’s a little scrappier than her sister. And Booker — well, he has more energy than the rest of the family combined. And that says a lot.
Even though all of my kids live pretty active lifestyles, they each have varying nutrition needs. Still, current school lunch standards put all our kids into a nationwide one-size-fits-all mold, and it isn’t working.
The new rules took effect at the beginning of the 2012 school year. In addition to stricter calorie regulations, schools are limited as to what can be included in the meals they serve. For example, schools can only serve about 2 ounces of meat per day. That’s equivalent to a chicken breast that is a little smaller than a deck of cards. Similar limits were put on grains, and new restrictions were added regarding fruits, vegetables and milk.
Parents, students and school administrators alike have reached out to me with serious concerns about the new regulations. In some cases, kids need more to be successful at basketball practice or other afterschool activities. I’ve also heard from school administrators who know that school lunches are the only meal some of their students get every day, and they want the flexibility to give them a little extra. On the other side, some kids are leaving school so hungry that they go home and binge. One student from Chester said, “I probably have two bowls, three bowls of cereal when I go home.” That’s not healthy, either.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture relaxed some of the meat and grain restrictions after so many parents, school administrators and policymakers raised concerns. But their actions only last through the end of this school year. I want to make these changes permanent.
This December, I am introducing a new school lunch nutrition bill to loosen the regulations that dictate how much meat and grain our students can be served. It will also ease up on some of the rules that have increased financial strain on our school districts.
Like many of you, making sure our kids are healthy is one of my top priorities. Childhood obesity is a growing crisis across the country, and South Dakota has one of the highest childhood obesity rates in the country. But overburdensome regulations aren’t the right way to buck the trend.
While we have a long way to go, South Dakota is one of the few states that is moving in the right direction on childhood obesity. Much of that is due to efforts on the local level, where we’ve worked to increase training and education so childcare providers and others can help keep kids more physically active and encourage them to eat more fruits and vegetables. It’s made a difference.
Parents must also be involved in forming healthy habits at home. Around the dinner table at my house, we talk a lot about making healthy choices. Those discussions will go much further than restricting my daughter Kennedy to 2 ounces of meat at lunch during volleyball season.
As with many things that impact our kids, choices about nutrition should be made as close to home as possible. We need to give local schools more flexibility to make sure the kids they see coming through the lunch line every day are getting the food they need to be healthy and successful.