Millions of children across our nation rely on school lunch programs, including many military kids.
Yet, many conservatives at the local, state and federal levels want to gut and ultimately eliminate funding for free and reduced lunches. For many children from homes facing financial difficulties, school lunch is a lifeline for a decent meal.
Why Michelle Obama’s Work Was So Important
More children in our nation today are overweight than ever before. Pediatricians now see children not only with Type 1 Diabetes but with adult-onset Type 2 Diabetes and heart problems.
How we eat food has changed and it is important that as a society, we re-learn what healthy eating means. It’s also important that parents, as well as schools, are able to teach our children how to eat healthily. That’s why the work of Former First Lady Michelle Obama was so important. She said:
“We can all agree that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, all children should have the basic nutrition they need to learn and grow and to pursue their dreams, because, in the end, nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our children.”
And to that end, she undertook crucial steps to raise awareness, provide healthier food options for school lunches, and encourage children to unplug, get off the sofa, and get moving.
Unfortunately, not all Americans agree that nutritious food for children is a priority.
The Poorly Named SCHOOL NUTRITION SOCIETY
Should we be surprised when children who have mainly eaten processed foods most of their lives complain about green beans, brown rice, and apples? Of course not — we have to teach them what good food tastes like. But why have Republicans attacked efforts to bring healthy foods to school lunches? Because the food industry wants processed foods served for school lunches as this helps keep our kids hooked on salt, fat, and sugar. In order to reach their goal, they lobby Congress using the School Nutrition Association (SNA).
With a name like the “School Nutrition Association,” it could be easy to assume this lobbying group works on behalf of children to promote healthy eating habits. Sadly, like so many lobbying groups, their name is misleading. SNA has over 55,000 members including major corporations such as PepsiCo, Dominoes, General Mills, and Schwans.
SNA originally worked with Former First Lady Obama in the Let’s Move! campaign in an effort to get children to eat healthier. But as the food industry grew increasingly worried about their profits, SNA began to spend more money lobbying Congress in an effort to roll back the nutritional standards. About half of the SNA operating budget coming from the food giants like General Mills.
What are SNC’s Goals?
Currently, SNA is lobbying to roll back standards implemented by Michelle Obama’s healthy school lunch program. Their aim is to gut the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was designed to lower childhood obesity rates by requiring school lunches to increase servings of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while decreasing processed foods. The SNA wants to allow more salty foods in school lunches while cutting the whole grain requirements by half.
Republicans complained loudly about the food served under the Healthy, Hungry Fee Kids Act. Remember Sarah Palin’s CPAC Speech where she stood holding a Super Big Gulp and said, “Shoot, It’s just pop.”
The efforts to roll back healthy meal programs are driven by profit margins; quick low cost production of unhealthy, processed foods drives up the profit for the food industry.
Michael Moss, while researching his book Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, discovered that food industry insiders have known for a long time that their products are bad for people’s overall health. He also discovered many food industry executives avoid eating their own products all together. As Moss found, adding foods with refined sugar to a child’s diet teaches the child to like food that is crap for their bodies but good for the food industry’s profit margin. As our Nation’s children become hooked on processed foods, the food industry gains customers for life.
Republicans Once Cared About Hungry Children
At one time Republicans did care about hungry children. In 1969, President Nixon formed the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health which introduced food stamps and expanded school lunch programs for children who came from low-income families.
But since the 1980s, the Republican party has attacked food programs that help people, families, and communities who are at an economic disadvantage.
Sadly, under this Republican administration, it is likely that lobbying groups will be able to accomplish their goal of destroying the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. We will mostly likely see cuts to the free and reduced lunch and after school snack programs. President Trump’s cabinet members haven’t exactly been reserved when it comes to their disdain for these programs. At CPAC, Betsy DeVos (claiming she was joking) said that she would be the “first person to tell Bernie Sanders to his face, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” And in a press conference, Mick Mulvaney, the budget director for the White House, falsely asserted that there was no evidence after-school meal programs help with school performance.
Although this administration has made it clear they’re unwilling to invest in nutritious food for America’s children, President Trump has unambiguously stated that his administration will aggressively seek to increase military spending. Contrary to popular belief, increased military spending does not mean an increased standard of living for military families. So where does that leave the military children who depend on the school lunch programs that Republicans want to cut?
The Pentagon doesn’t track much data regarding the military community’s use of food programs, so it’s hard to get a complete picture of just how important these programs are for the military community. However, we do know that in the DODEA school system, 24% of school children are eligible for free school lunches and 21% are eligible for reduced school lunches.
Cuts to these programs would hurt military families. Period.
How Parents Can Help: Get Involved
Join the resistance! Continue to go to town hall meetings, make phone calls, write letters to your elected representatives but there are also many other things that can be done:
- Ideas for nonpolitical ways to help:
- Healthy snack food drive for classrooms
- Ask to create and volunteer for an after school garden club
- Join the PTA/PTO/Parent Booster Club and promote healthy eating with a Try Day and have children sample healthy low-cost foods and send home information on the food (cost, nutritional information, and possible dishes)
- Have a get moving night for children and parents in the school gym
- Organize a school fun run
- Ideas for political ways to help:
- Run for school board
- Create a parent’s phone-a-thon for local, state, and federal legislation
- Help organize a sit-in at school board meetings or elected representatives’ offices
- Speak at school boards; voice your concerns and wants
And please stay informed!
NO a calorie is not a calorie. What we eat matters!
For all parents The Skinny On Obesity is a great documentary to watch.