Politics & Policy

The Feds Want to Treat School Lunches as a National-Security Concern

National Security Risks (Dreamstime)
Why are children’s snacks being treated as a national-security threat?

If a middle-school student arrives in class this fall with a lunchbox containing a 20 oz. Gatorade and a package of cheese and crackers, he or she may be transporting material the federal government has prohibited public schools from providing to children this fall. If such a simple snack were provided by the school, it might well be a threat to national security, the feds say.

The new rules are part of the USDA’s Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards, which come as a result of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, legislation designed to wage war on obesity. “Obesity is not just a health issue,” Kevin Concannon, USDA undersecretary for food, nutrition, and consumer services said earlier this month. “It is an economic and a national security issue.”

Along with Gatorade, middle schools may not provide certain beverages including various teas, lemonades, fruit punches, and all caffeinated drinks such as coffee and soda to students at lunch. And it’s not just beverages that have been banned. Elyria city schools in Ohio will no longer be able to sell their pink cookies, reportedly a 40-year-old tradition. Students at South Carolina’s Socastee High School will reportedly no longer be able to purchase Chick-fil-A sandwiches at school, and Banks County schools in Georgia will shut down their vending machines during breakfast and lunch hours to meet federal regulations, according to the Banks County News.

USDA regulations seem to have encouraged some busybodies to push for even more cumbersome rules and regulations. A local bureaucrat in Minnesota tried to remove all chocolate milk from her district, according to Echo Press, but ultimately decided against it after facing strong opposition. In Agawam, Massachusetts, a mother is attempting to eliminate peanuts from her child’s school. (Peanuts are permitted under the new regulations.) “A peanut-butter sandwich is a bullet to my child, only it’s guaranteed death for her,” Jennifer Gagne told WGGB. “It’s not a maybe she might die. It’s if she ingests any kind of peanuts, there’s little-to-zero chance for her to survive it.” Even cheese and crackers are dangerous for schools to sell. They may be packaged together and sold only if the first ingredient in the combination is either a dairy food or a whole grain, and provided the food meets all of the specific nutrition standards, according to the USDA. Kraft Handi-Snacks Packs with Crackers ’N Cheese Dip have 330 mg of sodium per package, but the new USDA regulations only allow snack items containing less than or equal to 230 mg of sodium. The 100-calorie package of cheese and crackers thus violates the new sodium requirements and may be deemed a threat to students’ health unless a given school chooses to sell it as an “entrée” item à la carte.  

Despite their complexity, the USDA has said the new rules, “carefully balance[] science-based nutrition guidelines with practical and flexible solutions to promote healthier eating on campus.” The agency has created a chart to help show the new regulations’ requirements and the decision to replace things such as “chocolate sandwich cookies” (a.k.a. Oreos) and “regular cola” (a.k.a. Coke) with “light popcorn” and “no-calorie flavored water.” All the same, the increased USDA regulations may have begun causing some school districts to rethink their membership in the federal program. Catlin Community School District 5 in Illinois is opting out of it this year, according to the Chicago Tribune, and will join Maine Township High School District 207 and Niles Township High School District 219, located in the Chicagoland area, both of which left the program in recent years.

If you’re interested in learning more about whether your favorite snack, side, entrée, or beverage is deemed contraband for sale at schools by the USDA, you can use a calculator developed by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, founded in part by the Clinton Foundation.  

EDITOR’S NOTEThis article has been amended since its initial posting.

— Ryan Lovelace is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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