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The Unhealthy Debate in U.S. Congress That Threatens Public School Nutrition Standards

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Sharon Glosson, executive director of school nutrition for North East Independent School District, says the ISD does, in fact, experience food waste as a result of the program. While Glosson sees many of the changes as “beneficial,”—such as mandating serving a variety of vegetables weekly (not just corn and potatoes), increasing whole grains, low-fat or non-fat milk and offering free water—on the other hand, the whole grain requirement, making sure students have a fruit or vegetable with their meal and lowering sodium to “unrealistic levels” aren’t seeing much success.

“We believe in investing in good nutrition for our students, but we are seeing a lot of fruits and vegetables going in the trash,” she says. “Fruits and vegetable have always been available for students to select [for those] that want to eat them, but forcing students that do not want them just ends up with more waste.”

The scenario at NEISD doesn’t seem to be the case nationally, at least, according to the Harvard study. In research conducted among urban, low-income school districts before and after the rules went into effect, they found that school meal standards did not result in increased food waste per person, “contradicting anecdotal reports from food service directors, teachers and parents.”

And for others, the benefit of giving the students a healthy option far outweighs a few pieces of fruit in the trash.

“While there is certainly some throwing away, we think it’s well worth getting more fruits and vegetables in front of them and making them more familiar with healthy choices,” says Leslie Price, spokesperson for SAISD. “We think, over time, [healthy choices] will become more accepted.”

Also, it seems unlikely the districts seeing food waste would even use the waiver. Glosson says in the past a similar waiver process has not been beneficial to districts because it is difficult to fulfill the application requirements, only lasts for one year and causes more federal scrutiny over the locally instituted lunch plans. “Your program is portrayed in a very negative light as to why you cannot meet standards,” she says.

It’s also worth remembering, this comes just a few months after the GOP led an effort to slash the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps—a program directed toward aiding low-income, hungry and food insecure families—by $5 billion. As Harvard nutrition experts noted, “for many low-income students, up to half their daily energy intake is from school meals.” By potentially allowing schools to cut the healthy parts of lunches, the GOP could add yet another hurdle for poor families struggling to keep healthy amid limited resources.

For now, the bill hasn’t cleared either the House or Senate chamber. Expect a food fight—er, negotiations—later this summer.

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