Trashing healthy dishes: New lunch regulations too strict

March 27, 2015 — by Nidhi Jain and Rachel Zhang

The caloric intake of a food item does not always correlate with its nutritional value, and thus should not be considered an important factor in deciding the healthiness of a food item.

This is a misconception evident in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, a piece of federal legislation passed in 2010 that allows USDA to enact healthy lunch reforms in schools in hopes of combating child obesity.

An average apple has 95 calories and 22 grams of sugar. Honest Kids’ “Apple Ever After” juice box has 40 calories and nine grams of sugar. Judging by these figures, Honest Kids should be healthier than the apple right?

Wrong. While apples contain vitamins and nutrients that are vital in our diet, the apple juice is simply sugary water.

The caloric intake of a food item does not always correlate with its nutritional value, and thus should not be considered an important factor in deciding the healthiness of a food item.

This is a misconception evident in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, a piece of federal legislation passed in 2010 that allows USDA to enact healthy lunch reforms in schools in hopes of combating child obesity.

Under the new regulations, all snack items are required to have fewer than 200 calories and entreés have been reduced to 350 calories, a ridiculously low number when considering physically active adolescents should be consuming 3,500 calories a day.

The act has affected over a 100,000 schools, where the majority of the students are on a reduced or free lunch program. First Lady Michelle Obama has become the face and also the target of this act.

Currently, in retaliation against the unnecessarily strict regulations, students have turned to Twitter to express their anger. Using the hashtag, #ThanksMichelleObama, thousands of students have posted pictures of their bland school meals, most of them resembling indistinguishable piles of brown mush.

The lack of taste can be attributed to the sodium limitations imposed that require snacks to have fewer than 230 mg and entreés to have fewer than 480 mg.  

When Hunter Whitney, a student from Wisconsin’s Richmond Center High School, tweeted a picture of her barely edible Spanish Rice last October, a commenter described it to be “floor sweepings mixed into fructose.”  

Whitney and other students end up throwing away their lunches and go to classes with empty stomachs. These habits are far unhealthier than a couple extra calories.  

Raised largely on junk food, the generation of students like Whitney react negatively to the lunch reforms partly because they are unaccustomed to eating the so-called healthy foods, but mainly due to the unpleasant taste.

In order to resolve this issue, the government should provide schools with not only healthy, but also appetizing meals. This can easily be accomplished by asking a limited number of schools to have their students sample foods and provide feedback.

School lunches have taken a different turn at Saratoga.

Our school cafeteria has experienced changes and cutbacks as a result of the government’s push for “healthier” food options, which, in reality, are unnecessary.  

As a Basic Aid school, which means it is mostly funded by local property taxes, Saratoga High is exempt from much of this regulation. Nonetheless, the government incentivizes schools like SHS by creating a list of approved foods that are cheaper than the ones it deems to be “unhealthy.”

Although many of these new food choices have healthier components, the ingredients list contains a plethora of processed additives.

For instance, many of the grain products have been replaced with wheat alternatives. Although the new microwavable wheat burrito seems to be a healthier alternative, The Journal of the American Medical Association actually published a study, finding that a chemical, Bisphenol A, in “many packaged foods [is] associated with an increased risk of child obesity.”

According to USDA, “one goal of the law was to help reduce America's childhood obesity epidemic.” But by serving lunches that contain a chemical linked with child obesity, the implementation of the act has backfired.

Recently, even the popular fruit smoothie drink Odwalla has been banned from the cafeteria due to its failure to meet the overly strict regulations.

For beverages, USDA requires the drink to have less than 40 calories per eight fluid ounces, and Odwala’s “Original Superfood” drink does not meet the requirement with 131 calories per eight fluid ounces. Most of the calories are added on by the fruit.

Yet with 1 ¾ servings of apples, ⅘ servings of peach, ¼ servings of mango and 3 ½ servings of strawberries, the drink is undoubtedly healthy.

It is nearly impossible to create a truly healthy beverage without increasing the number of calories.

Thus, the legislation fails since it looks only at the caloric intake when deciding whether to ban a drink.

The government has placed the power of lunch reforms in the wrong hands. The USDA simply uses a commercial approach in determining the healthiness of food items, failing to properly understand the needs of high school students.

Instead, the government should create a general guideline for schools to meet, while leaving the specifics up to the business manager of each school district, who comprehends the demographics of the students better.

No matter how healthy a new cafeteria food may be, it is ultimately useless if the students toss their meals in the trash.

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