Like It or Not: School Lunch

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Opinion piece by Lyle V. Harris

Almost everybody who went to public school has a horror story about eating in the school cafeteria. But let’s face it: good food is essential to good health, and it’s essential to success at school.

That’s why the federal government spends 14 billion dollars a year to feed breakfast and lunch to 30-million students across the country, many of them are right here in Georgia.

And that’s why I’m troubled by the Trump administration’s decision to rollback Obama-era rules: by promising to “Make School Meals Great Again.”

Former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, now the top guy at the Agriculture Department, is at the center of the effort, making the case that a million and a half kids throw out their lunch every day because it doesn’t taste good, which means they get no nutrition at all.

Perdue says the federal guidelines requiring more fruits and vegetables, and limiting sugar, salt and fat, may have been well-intended, but he favors letting local districts decide.

To be fair, some of the changes Perdue proposes aren’t really bad, like giving schools the option to serve flavored, one-percent milk. Since many school districts now serve non-fat flavored milk anyway, that’s O.K.

What’s not O.K. is allowing more salt in the food.

Under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, public schools first reduced sodium in meals in 2014. They were scheduled to reduce sodium levels even further during this (2017) school year. But the feds are now delaying those planned reductions for another three years.

Too much sodium increases your risk of stroke, heart failure, stomach cancer and kidney disease. One in three Americans will eventually develop high blood pressure because of it. Our kids need us to look out for them, and to teach them about smarter choices.

And it’s working, by the way. Contrary to Perdue’s claims about food waste, the school lunch program has grown more popular with students, and most of the nation’s school districts are already complying with the federal requirements, including about 98 percent of the districts in Georgia.

What’s more, a 2015 government study showed that about 16 percent more students were choosing vegetables and 23 percent more were choosing fruits. That’s why reversing the requirements for healthier meals for students just makes no sense.

Here’s the phone number (202-720-7100) and Twitter handle for Secretary Sonny Perdue at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Let him know that the best way to make school meals great is to make sure the kids who are eating them stay healthy.

DISCLAIMER: This segment represents the views of the commentator and not necessarily those of FOX 5 Atlanta.