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Is school lunch reform in need of reform?

12:15 PM, Aug 19, 2013 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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Michelle Obama is on the cover of this week's Parade magazine. The profile by Maggie Murphy and Lynn Sherr was hard-hitting: "Posing in the formal Green Room, she appears both relaxed and invigorated, embracing the undefined (and undefinable) roles of Spouse in Chief, Role Model in Chief, and Mom in Chief. But it's the last one that makes the first lady shine brightest of all. Put her in a room with kids—whether her own or the nation's—and she glows." Tell me more!

Fighting against childhood obesity is a worthy cause and the first lady deserves some credit for taking on this crusade. In fact, the latest data indicate childhood obesity is going down. That said, creating new guidelines turned out to be harder to implement—what looks good on paper isn't necessarily practical.

Mrs. Obama acknowledges this in the Parade piece:

Change is hard—it's as simple as that. You start making tweaks to something that has been a mainstay and you're going to get some backlash, particularly from kids. We as adults can't be shortsighted. That's part of how we got to this problem in the first place. We sort of give our kids what they want, as opposed to what they need. I understand this as a mom. I mean, to sit at the dinner table and have your kids pout over what you've served for dinner is an ego buster. RIght? My kids are normal. If they could eat burgers and fries and ice cream every day, they would. And so would I. But that doesn't sustain us.

No, it doesn't. But is the first lady confident that she and her advisers know what is best for every student from coast to coast? Case in point, while going through our local paper, the Arlington Sun Gazette, my wife came across an article headlined "More Flexibility for School Lunches." Editor Scott McCaffrey writes:

The school-lunch world was roiled over the past year by new federal regulations, which required a greater emphasis on fruits and vegetables and less on protein and grains. The result, as those who see the irony in the phrase "we're from the government and we're here to help you" may have guessed, turned out to be a mess.

[Amy Maclosky, director of food and nutrition services for Arlington Public Schools] in March went before the School Board to acknowledge that the federal mandate had led to fewer students purchasing breakfasts and lunches, because the offerings mandated by the new rules didn't measure up. One example: School systems had to nix offering cheeseburgers, since the combination of meat, bread and cheese made them illegal under the federal rules. Even venerable peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches had to be scaled back, leading to a student revolt.

While Arlington didn't suffer as much as some other districts, the drop-off in student meal participation was as much as 40 percent throughout Virginia.

School systems had to nix offering cheeseburgers, since the combination of meat, bread and cheese made them illegal under the federal rules. What's that saying about the road to hell? (And keep in mind this is Arlington County, which voted 69.1 percent for Barack Obama.)

In any event, Maclosky had better news: "The new federal regulations have been sorted out, and we are pleased that we will have the opportunity to be more flexible with our daily options," she tells McCaffrey.

But should all kids be on the same diet plan? Should a varsity linebacker get the same amount of protein and carbohydrates as the president of the Math League? Maybe the government can issue waivers.

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