By Editorial Board
When it comes to feeding children, it’s nice to have a little wiggle room.
School kids can be unpredictable eaters at a time when fuel for their growing bodies and brains is critical.
Recently, the Department of Agriculture eased off on its push for healthy school lunches by allowing schools to serve as much meat and grains as they want as long as they stay within guidelines for the limits on total calories. That might mean some students could get an extra piece of bread at lunch to help them fill up.
It’s good to see more flexibility after the federal school lunch plan faced heavy criticism from students, parents and Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., when students went back to classes this fall. Many older students, especially athletes, said the meals didn’t provide enough food. Some students mourned the loss of ranch dressing and ketchup in amounts they were accustomed to.
While many of the goals of the new school lunch guidelines are good, the rigidness of the plan made it difficult for school lunch programs to keep children and their parents happy. The meal guidelines forced schools to double the amounts of fruits and vegetables, for example. In turn, students often wasted those items by throwing away much of their meals.
The calorie guideline for students — a one-size fits all approach — left some athletes feeling like they needed more fuel, for example. Since the government still has a calorie limit, filling up athletes still may be the responsibility of parents who will have to supplement their child’s lunch, the government says.
We would like to see school children of all ages get a healthy yet satisfying lunch every day. For some students — whether those affected by economics or those who are booked with after-school activities — it’s the one balanced meal of the day. And all students need adequate calories in order to really be able to learn.
We urge the federal government to work to design the school lunch program so that schools can feed students a nutritious meal daily. That’s going to take more than balanced food groups. It will require common sense, wiggle room and, yes, more flexibility.
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