EDITORIAL: Cookie crumbles under flawed lunch standards

Students in Elyria, Ohio, just west of Cleveland, love their pink cookies. Jean Gawlik, the school district’s longtime food production manager, first introduced the family recipe to the city’s school lunch rooms more than 40 years ago, and since then the delicious homemade sour cream cake cookie has taken on a life of its own.

“I grew up eating them,” Elyria Mayor Holly Brinda told Fox News. “They are a comfort food. It’s one of those things that’s special to our community.”

As tasty and popular as the pink cookie is, however, it doesn’t meet the Department of Agriculture’s new “Smart Snacks in School” standards, so it has to go.

The rules say all snacks must contain less than 200 calories. A represenative of Elyria City Schools says the system tried to change the recipe to make it more healthy — the recipe for the frosting calls for a pound of butter — but the reduced-calorie version just wasn’t as good. So the school district’s chef decided to shut down production altogether.

Per those new guidelines, schools are required to make sure that all foods are healthier, including those in vending machines and a la carte items. The guidelines were adopted under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, first lady Michelle Obama’s overly ambitious and increasingly unpopular anti-obesity campaign.

The USDA has made some taste-friendly tweaks since the program’s initial rollout, but exhaustive standards remain, including age-based calorie limits, limits on sodium, no trans fats, the phasing out of white bread in favor of “whole grain rich” items, and specific ounce amounts for meats and grains. Portion requirements and calorie limits are also at odds, causing some schools to add decidedly unhealthy foods or serve odd food combinations (like cheese sticks and shrimp) in order to follow the rules. The standards also require that every student take a fruit or vegetable to create a balanced plate, whether the student wants it (or will eat it) or not. And the best part? The law says students have to pay more for their lunches — lunches that students complain give them less food.

According to a report released by the Government Accountability Office at the end of February, the new school lunch standards have caused more than 1 million kids to abandon the lunch line. The number of kids who paid full price for school lunches dropped by 10 percent in 2013 to the lowest level in more than a decade.

Many tasked with feeding our schoolchildren say the new standards were put in place too quickly for kids’ palettes to adjust, and when kids don’t buy lunch or throw it away, schools throw away much-needed revenue. According to a recent report in the Los Angeles Times, for example, the city’s students throw out “at least $100,000 worth of food a day — and probably far more,” amounting to $18 million a year. And that’s just one city.

It’s good to encourage kids to eat better and to be more active. Active kids can eat treats like the Ohio cookie and still be in great health. But parents are the ones who should be in control of those decisions. And with more kids refusing to eat school lunch, more parents will be.

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