Earlier this year, the USDA made an attempt to bolster the nutrition guidelines for the federal school lunch program. Under the new guidelines, for instance, school lunches would be limited to one cup of starchy vegetables a week and the ability of schools to count tomato sauce on pizza towards their fruit and vegetables requirement would be scaled back. But House Republicans, in a new spending plan unveiled yesterday, have done away with those changes:
The spending bill also would allow tomato paste on pizzas to be counted as a vegetable, as it is now. The department’s proposed guidelines would have attempted to prevent that.
The changes had been requested by food companies that produce frozen pizzas, the salt industry and potato growers. Some conservatives in Congress have called the push for healthier foods an overreach, saying the government shouldn’t be telling children what to eat.
According to a bill summary released by Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee, these provisions are meant to “prevent overly burdensome and costly regulations.” What they will actually do is ensure that a steady flow of dollars continues toward certain favored food manufacturers, at the expense of children’s health.
“We are outraged that Congress is seriously considering language that would effectively categorize pizza as a vegetable in the school lunch program,” said Amy Dawson Taggart, the director of Mission: Readiness, a group advocating for healthier school lunches. “It doesn’t take an advanced degree in nutrition to call this a national disgrace.”
This is hardly the first time that the GOP has attacked attempts to boost the nutritional content of school lunches. Back in May, House Republicans derided the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which was signed into law late last year, as a “massive and costly” federal intrusion. They did this despite the fact that escalating obesity rates cost the nation $147 billion per year in direct medical costs.
As education policy analyst Theodora Chang has written, “student nutrition programs ensure that students are ready to learn and are not stymied by hunger. Schools are ideal locations for social services like healthy meals because they have unparalleled access to low-income students and their families.” Instead, the GOP has decided to roll back what little progress has been made in terms of school lunch nutrition.