The Obama administration pulled a Blutarsky in 2012 when it started a food fight by imposing a host of new regulations on local school districts in the name of encouraging kids to eat healthier fare. But, as could be expected, the well-intentioned intervention created a set of unintended consequences.
Last week, Las Vegas hosted the annual School Nutrition Association conference, a gathering of school food and nutrition professionals. The meeting, among other things, offered participants tips on complying with the federal standards while creating options that students will actually eat — because that’s been a major issue.
A 2014 Harvard study concluded that while the federal nutrition mandates did increase fruit and vegetable consumption, students continued to waste significant amounts of those products. As many as 60 percent of vegetables and 40 percent of the fruit selected in the cafeterias of schools studied ended up in the trash can.
This is a massive expense for school districts, including Clark County. A 2017 Los Angeles Times report noted that students in the Los Angeles Unified School District were throwing out $100,000 of food every day.
You can lead a horse to water …
Much of the waste can be tied directly to the Obama-era regulations. Federal law requires that students take either a vegetable or fruit selection whether they want it or not. What sense does that make? But districts that fail to follow the nutritional edicts issued by Washington bureaucrats risk losing money laundered through the federal regulatory state.
Thus, the School Nutrition Association conference takes on greater importance. An entire cottage industry has blossomed as districts seek to conform to government rules while attempting to limit food waste by concocting creative menu items designed to trick kids into healthful consumption habits.
Pushing little Billy and Susie to eat their Brussels sprouts, quinoa and kale is certainly a noble objective. But a strong argument can be made that today’s children, thanks to nutritional trends, already eat significantly better than their counterparts in previous generations. Those seeking to attack the problem of childhood obesity might get better results if they focused on urging parents to push kids away from their electronic devices and out into their neighborhoods for some much-needed physical activity.
The Trump administration last year relaxed a handful of the Obama lunch lady regulations. It should go further and ensure that school districts have more flexibility to address their own unique needs and circumstances. It would also be worth asking the question: Why is Washington involved in micromanaging the choices of local districts and parents in the first place?