Costs Up, Quality Down for School Lunch

MyPlateSchools across the U.S. are struggling to meet the school lunch requirements championed by First Lady Michelle Obama and regulated by the Departments of Agriculture and Education. School boards continue to raise the prices of school lunch while simultaneously reducing the amount of healthy foods offered to students.

The new school lunch requirements, defined in the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA), have prompted the Government Accountability Office to recommend the Department of Agriculture modify its regulations. The GAO investigated several schools and food distributors and found a decrease in meat and grains served to students, and an increase in sugar, salt, and fat, in direct opposition to the stated goals of the new nutrition standards passed by Congress in 2010.

As schools struggle to meet the new calorie counts and portion sizes, many are having to raise prices in order to meet the federal standards and receive federal funding.

The Lynchburg City School Board is the latest in a list of schools nationwide to debate increased school lunch prices. The board is considering the price hike as a result of the new federal mandates on pricing and food offerings. In recent months, prices in Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, and elsewhere have increased by 10, 15 and even 25 cents per student.

In many cases, the quality of foods offered to students has decreased despite the price jump. One fourth grader went undercover to document the quality of his New York City public school lunch offering. Video here: Yuck! In his documentary, Zachary Maxwell records his school lunches for six months and brings to light the vast difference between what the Department of Education and his school say publicly about the lunch menu and the reality of what is actually served to students.

The GAO found some schools substitute whole grain chips for potato chips, natural shredded cheese for processed cheese sauce, and add high-in-fat sauces like ranch dressing in order to meet the minimum calorie requirements. Ketchup and pizza sauce are considered “vegetables” in some cases and hamburger patty sizes have nearly been cut in half.

The Department of Agriculture has agreed to temporarily suspend some meat and grain limits until further review, but students still aren’t buying it. Many reports have emerged from students and school districts all over the country saying students are left hungry and are in some cases boycotting the meals.

To learn more about the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act and the War on School Lunch, click here.

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