The U.S. Department of Agriculture figures released Tuesday school lunch attendance through the National School Lunch Program is going steadily downward. In fact, student participation is down across the country as a whole.
The School Nutrition Association (SNA), representing over 55,000 school nutritionists nationwide says the drop can be directly related to new nutrition standards. The nutrition champion of such radical changes in the schools will surprise some Americans. None other than First Lady Michelle Obama who played a major part in the changes being instituted by the USDA back in 2012.
Participation by students reached its peak in 2010 and 2011 with more than 31.8 million students. Since that time, the number has dropped off dramatically. By 2013 it had dropped to 30.7 million and in 2014 it decreased again to 30.4 million, according to the USDA. What that all means is 1.4 million students have decided to bring their own version of lunch and skip Obama’s nutrition program.
The stark fact is the program is down in every state except Delaware, Florida, and North Dakota compared to 2011, according to USDA data released on July 6. As an SNA spokesman said, “More than one million fewer students choose school lunch each day, thwarting the goal of promoting healthier diets for all students. The consequences include school lunch revenue being down and food waste is up.”
So why are so many students shunning the program? Most likely because the new standards require school lunches to contain more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, ban whole milk, and reduce the number of calories in a meal. All this is bad in the eyes of children.
Many students simply throw the lunches in the nearest trash can. That amounts to around $3.8 million worth of produce being thrown out each day according to the SNA.
Harvard School of Public Health conducted another study on the matter. It revealed that “students discarded roughly 60 to 75 percent of the vegetables and 40 percent of the fruits on their tray.” The student population is more than displeased with the new requirements so highly touted in the last few years by Michelle Obama.
In the understatement of the year, the SNA said in a release: “USDA’s national and state level participation data highlight the challenges school meal programs have faced under the new regulations.” Meanwhile other reports say students are dealing with this mini-crisis by bringing, and even selling, salt, pepper and sugar to make school lunches taste better.