The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is touting its new lunch standards in a promotional video, claiming the program is “proving to be popular.”
However, multiple news reports suggest the standards—which originated in First Lady Michelle Obama’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010—are driving kids out of the lunch line.
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture is celebrating good news for America’s schools,” the video, which was released last week, said. “New guidelines for healthier school meals introduced last year are proving to be popular, as nearly 80 percent of school districts have adopted the changes.”
“In Central Iowa’s Bondurant Farrar school district that means more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, low-fat dairy, and other changes are making school meals healthier for students,” the USDA said.
Students from Bondurant Farrar High School are featured in the video, praising the regulations and saying they have more energy in class.
“It makes you feel better,” said Lexi Atzen, a senior. “When you eat good foods you feel a lot better about yourself, you feel a lot better just in general.”
“You have more energy and then that leads into the classroom, as well,” she said.
The standards place calorie limits by age and mandate servings of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables in order for schools to receive reimbursements through the National School Lunch Program.
The USDA video claims that the “vast majority of schools across the country report having successfully implemented the new school standards.
However, numerous news reports from across the country in recent months show many schools are having trouble implementing the rules. Additionally, districts are dropping out of the program due to financial burdens and kids’ distaste for new menus finds the healthier food in the trash.
“They say it tastes like vomit,” one Harlan County, Ky. school board member said at a meeting last month, according to the Daily Mail.
A group serving 12 districts in New York said implementing the standards was a “disaster.”
“The guidelines were so prohibitive and restrictive that we lost student customers,” Tom Pfisterer, the director of School Food Services for Oneida-Herkimer-Madison, N.Y. said to the Observer Dispatch.
“Anything that would make a young kid excited about buying lunch was basically removed.”
The N.Y. based group served 1,000 less lunches per day as a result of the new guidelines.
One school in Texas dropped out of the program because of its rigid rules, which resulted in much of the food ending up in the trash.
Elementary school children in Florida are reportedly bursting into tears because peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are no longer served.
The standards have also proven costly.
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake school district in New York lost $100,000 trying to implement new meals, which included “part of a chicken patty on a minicroissant.”
Fish sticks will be back on the menu in Catlin, Ill., after the school district announced it was dropping out of the lunch program. The district lost $30,000 trying to implement the new standards, which children refused to buy.
The USDA bases its claim that 80 percent of schools are meeting the standards successfully on an in-house survey conducted by the Food and Nutrition Service.
A USDA official told the Washington Free Beacon the standards are important for children to lead healthier lives. The official also said the agency is offering assistance to schools as they transition to healthier menus.
The official said very few districts have opted out of the lunch program, and that the agency encourages them to still offer healthy items.
The USDA also cited a School Nutrition Association survey that asked 521 school nutrition directors if they had plans to drop out of the lunch program, finding that 92.7 percent said they did not.
Dee Dee Olson, the Food Service Director for the Bondurant Farrar, Iowa school district featured in the USDA video, told the Free Beacon that implementing the standards has been a challenge, but the program is going well.
“There are kids that aren’t accepting it but I would say we don’t have any more waste than we did before,” she said.
“At first they wouldn’t take the food and vegetables,” Olson said. “The fruit that they’re taking now, we’re running out of fruit in the fruit basket.”
“It hasn’t been easy, it’s been a challenge,” she added. “But if you just keep trying new recipes and putting things together […] if they don’t eat it, we try something else.”
The current lunch menu includes hamburgers and hot dogs on whole grain buns, “calico baked beans,” “steamed perky peas,” and Jicama, a Mexican yam. The Iowa school district still serves mini corn dog nuggets once a month.
Bondurant Farrar has been involved with government healthy eating initiatives before.
The high school started a garden run by the librarian, aligned with the first lady’s community garden initiative. The elementary school won the silver “Healthier U.S. School Challenge Award,” which is given out by the USDA.
Olson was nominated by the Iowa State Department to attend the USDA’s “Produce Safety University,” a weeklong training course on food safety for school district program directors for the National School Lunch Program.
“They pay for everything,” she said. “It’s kind of a big honor.”
Olson said she believes the USDA asked the Iowa State Department to recommend schools for the video series, and her district was picked.
“We want Michelle Obama to come to our school and visit our garden,” Olson said. “That’s our next goal.”