DOTHAN, Ala. – School nutrition directors are calling on Congress to ditch a ban on grits in school meals and roll back other overbearing regulations created by former first lady Michelle Obama that are ruining school meal programs.
The School Nutrition Association, which represents 50,000 school food directors nationwide, sent about 900 of its members to Congress in April to lobby for the changes, as well as increased funding and opposition to the idea of shifting to a block grant system for school meals, the Forsyth News reports.
Stephanie Dillard, child nutrition director in Geneva County, Alabama, told WDHN several school districts in the area were focused on sodium restrictions and the ban on white grains in current regulations.
“Just because grits are a staple item for us in the South,” Dillard said. “We cannot serve grits right now because they don’t meet our regulations. We want to be able to give our students the same thing they have and see at home.”
In Forsyth County, Georgia, school nutrition director Valerie Bowers said school meal sales dropped by 16 percent when the government forced the district to reduce sodium levels in 2014, and schools can’t afford another reduction scheduled for this year.
“Starting in July, we’re required to lower our sodium content again. We are having to do it in three tiers: the first one in 2014, this one in 2017, and I guess another in 2020,” Bowers said. “We saw a decrease in our participation after the first reduction.”
“When you reduce so much fat and sodium, you have to add some other things to make it palatable and functional,” Bowers said. “Right now we’re at the point where it works. If we have to go to another decrease, it’s going to be very difficult.”
More than 1.4 million students across the nation have dropped out of the National School Lunch Program since former first lady Michelle Obama ushered in the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act. The federal regulations strictly limit calories, fat, salt, sugar, and other elements of foods served through the national breakfast, lunch, and dinner programs, as well as snacks and vending machine fare in schools.
Other regulations, including one that requires all students take a fruit or vegetable whether they want it or not, has also increased school food waste by an estimated $1 billion a year.
“The biggest challenge is finding something the kids want to eat that is also nutritious,” Bowers told the Forsyth News. “When they don’t want to eat what we provide, we lose participation. Eventually, that’s losing jobs, hours get cut. At some point, you have to look at what you’re serving.”
The restrictions on grains, for example, is too much, she said.
“Also, we’re going to have to have 100 percent whole grains in our meals,” she said. “Before, it was 50 percent. Like our pizza crust didn’t have to be 100 percent whole grain, or our breading in our chicken tenders. We don’t want all white grains and flours, but we want the flexibility to have some.
“It has impacted our program, and it makes it difficult for us to have meals for our kids.”
“Overall, since the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act that Michelle Obama put into place, it started in 2012, we’ve lost 20 percent. They’re required to choose a fruit or a vegetable, and our kids don’t want to be wasteful, so if they don’t want a fruit they just don’t eat with us that day,” Bowers said.