Don’t let them eat cake

Mr. Per­due is rolling back nutri­tion stan­dards for school lunches. He shouldn’t go any fur­ther.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

GET­TING KIDS to eat, as any par­ent will at­test, can be a strug­gle. Get­ting them to eat healthy foods can be even harder. But the so­lu­tion is not for adults to give up on good nutri­tion and let them eat what­ever they want. That is the un­for­tu­nate mes­sage sent by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion to slow im­ple­men­ta­tion of stricter nutri­tion stan­dards for school meals that were cham­pi­oned by then-first lady Michelle Obama. With obe­sity a crit­i­cal prob­lem for mil­lions of Amer­i­can chil­dren, ef­forts to make school menus health­ier should not be de­layed.

Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Sonny Per­due an­nounced this month, one week af­ter be­ing con­firmed, a roll­back of some nutri­tion reg­u­la­tions man­dated as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Schools won’t be re­quired to lower the sodium con­tent of break­fasts and lunches served to some 31 mil­lion school­child­ren un­til 2020, waivers will con­tinue to be given to schools to let them opt out of hav­ing to serve whole-grain en­riched foods, and they will be per­mit­ted to serve choco­late and fla­vored milk as long as it’s re­duced-fat.

“We have to bal­ance sodium and whole grain con­tent with palata­bil­ity,” Mr. Per­due said. He said schools should give stu­dents more of what they like to eat and that too much school food ends up in the trash. Waste is an is­sue, but that is a long-stand­ing Amer­i­can prob­lem not unique to school cafe­te­rias. More­over, some peer-re­viewed stud­ies have found, con­trary to widely cir­cu­lated anec­do­tal as­ser­tions, that the re­vised meal stan­dards and poli­cies ap­pear to have low­ered, not in­creased, food waste. In any event, as Ken Cook of the En­vi­ron­men­tal Work­ing Group pointed out, “Just be­cause chil­dren would rather eat heav­ily salted pro­cessed foods at school doesn’t mean they should.” There are strate­gies that have proved suc­cess­ful at en­cour­ag­ing bet­ter eat­ing habits, from cut­ting up fruit and set­ting up salad bars to in­volv­ing chil­dren in food prepa­ra­tion to sim­ply giv­ing them more time to eat.

The changes or­dered by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion — and re­flected in a pol­icy rider in­serted by House Repub­li­cans in an ap­pro­pri­a­tions bill — thank­fully still leave in place most of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s nutri­tion rules, in­clud­ing re­quire­ments to serve fruits and veg­eta­bles to stu­dents. We hope that Mr. Per­due — who did add a salad to the chicken nuggets he lunched on at the Loudoun County school where the May 1 an­nounce­ment was made — doesn’t plan to back­track fur­ther on the progress that has been made in get­ting kids to eat health­ier.

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