Metro woman leads group requesting changes in school nutrition rules

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- First Lady Michelle Obama says school nutrition requirements shouldn't be watered down. But Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack will meet with representatives of a group that once favored the rules but now wants changes. A Kansas City metro woman is president of that group.

Broccoli and pineapple are among the offerings at the Hickman Mills School District's summer camp. During the school year, federal nutrition requirements say kids must take a fruit or veggie with any meal, even if they don't want it.

"So they're having to take something they're just going to throw in the trash, so we feel like we should offer that but not force it," said Leah Schmidt, president of the School Nutrition Association. She is director of Hickman Mills' nutrition services.

Schmidt says the standards are resulting in a big drop in kids eating school meals. Besides eliminating the fruit and veggie requirement, the association wants to retain the current requirement that half of grains be whole grains instead of boosting it to 100 percent.

"We took macaroni and cheese off our menu because we just could not find a good whole grain product that we could use," said Schmidt.

The group also wants to retain current salt levels. Schmidt says by 2021, school meals would have sodium levels equal to those in a kidney patient's diet.

"There's no research that shows that's good for students," she said.

The First Lady has been adamant about the guidelines staying on track. She says they're valuable in curbing America's obesity epidemic.

"Now is not the time to roll back everything we've worked for," Obama said.

Schmidt says that's not what the School Nutrition Association is asking for.

"We are asking to take a pause," she said.

The organization is backed by food companies, which must spend millions on changing their products. Critics say the companies have strong influence on the group's positions.

"Actually, they're trying to meet the regulations, so it's not about them," she said.

Schmidt claims it's about serving healthy meals that kids will eat.

Congress is considering allowing districts that are losing money on food services a chance to skip the requirements for a year. The School Nutrition Association favors that bill.

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  • Jim Hall

    You force kids to eat something they wont just out of defiance. I dont have kids and even I know that. You would think the first lady would have figured that out. If you make it an option then maybe you will get them to come to like it and eat more of it.

    • Tysinn

      If you force your kid to have a cookie, are you saying they wouldn’t want it? I doubt it. It’s time to make a healthy change for our children. If there parents who want the best for thei kids but aren’t willing to serve them a healthy diet, then the schools need to take charge. would you feed your dog chocolate and junk food? then why would you give it to your kids

      • Shelly

        TYSINN- Your comments do not make sense. Why would you force a kid to eat a cookie- or anything? And you can’t actually force them to eat it- we (Food Service Administrators) can only force them to take it. We can’t make them not throw it away as soon as they leave the line, either. I am so over that it is our responsibility to do what parents can’t or won’t. That is not to say we don’t strive every day to provide a healthy, fresh, balanced meal. Thank you to the bulk of the other comments! This has become a political fight- not in the best interest of the children, but so Michelle can save face. It is unrealistic. We deal with real students on a day to day basis, but our experience and suggestions have been virtually ignored so that someone else can pat themselves on the back and say “Look what I did”. Still, it is failing miserably and they are not willing to meet halfway but instead want to put out to the public that we don’t care about kids and nutrition. Far from the truth. It is laid out pretty clearly here what we are asking for and it is hardly unreasonable.

  • MaLinda RaNae

    So old lady Obama, it’s best to waste than to have them pass? Wow….This is irritating, and this is honestly the first time I’ve paid much attention to the school changes as my kids will eat nearly anything. Glad mine are out of the public school system. However, for those still in, why not allow them to pass instead of wasting? Oh, that’s right, because Michelle is the boss! Grrrrrr

  • James Moore

    Mrs. Obama is not an elected official. Her demands should mean absolutely nothing. Typical tyranny from the left, “Do as you are told! Regardless of cost or waste!

  • Gary Abosch

    Yawn. This is what happens with an administration that’s all about CHANGE. Don’t the Obama’s realize these things are the way they are through decades of trial and error. These institutions know what works and what doesn’t. Hurry up and get out of the White House. Can’t wait for the day – will have a big celebration with fireworks and booze.

  • shana price

    My kids come home hungry because they don’t eat at school do I agree that the schools need better food choices yes but let them be kids to I know I hated eating anything healthy when I was young Obama and the schools need to figure something out together but it will never happen because Michelle will never give up control o and it’s not just in schools either hospitals now can only serve diet soda and that is even worse then regularly soda because of the aspartame in it

  • Christy

    I have a son with SPD (sensory processing disorder) and food is a huge issue with him. He’s also FTT (failure to thrive) so we try to pack as many calories as possible into his tiny little body. I know that our situation is not the “norm” and that there is a huge obesity problem. However, all these low calorie, tasteless and bland, and just plain “yucky” in the eyes of the kids (not just my son, either – several classmates agree!) is not the best thing for us. We’re not the only ones in this situation, and even with the kids who DO need to have calorie restrictions, I don’t think that changing everything all at once on these kids is the way to go. Gradual changes and education about healthy foods are a better way to get the kids to eat better. Schools should think about planting gardens, letting the classes take turns pulling weeds and harvesting the food. Have the nutritionist/cafeteria workers teach the kids how to prepare the foods, and let them sample it as they go. Maybe by making it a hands on experience, it won’t be so widely rejected.

  • Henry Glass

    I am not against providing a healthy meal each day for our students in America. The Food Service Programs have always been held accountable in meeting USDA Guidelines for years. I am a Food Service Director for a medium size school system in Tennessee. We have had to struggle for several years trying to find products that will meet the new stricter guidelines. The one thing to remember is that Food Service manufacturers sell their products to other customers. The schools are just a small part of their overall business. I have seen our Food Expenses increase and our student participation decrease, since the new guidelines were implemented. It is hard to get a student to try a new item when they do not eat this in their homes. Why do we want to force our students take a fruit or vegetable at breakfast and lunch in order for their plate to be counted as complete meal? All you have to do is to watch the amount of food that is thrown away each day in our cafeterias. It is hard to accept this everyday. I have been in this profession for 13 years and have never shown a loss until these new guidelines went into effect.
    Remember this, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can not make them drink! ”
    This reflects what Food Service Programs are experiencing the last several years.

    • Shelly

      I also experienced a loss for the first time in 11 years, and the frustration with finding palatable items for kids (we are mostly talking middle and high school students who are much pickier) is difficult, actually downright depressing. I was a chef with years in the restaurant business but they are making it so difficult to be creative that I have starting looking for another profession. On top of the nutritional guidelines, the additional record keeping regulations and monitoring of what we charge for food (even though I was always profitable until this year) is just too much. The public has no idea how over-regulated we are.

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