GETTING KIDS to eat, as any parent will attest, can be a struggle. Getting them to eat healthy foods can be even harder. But the solution is not for adults to give up on good nutrition and let them eat whatever they want. That is the unfortunate message sent by the Trump administration’s decision to slow implementation of stricter nutrition standards for school meals that were championed by then-first lady Michelle Obama. With obesity a critical problem for millions of American children, efforts to make school menus healthier should not be delayed.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced this month, one week after being confirmed, a rollback of some nutrition regulations mandated as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Schools won’t be required to lower the sodium content of breakfasts and lunches served to some 31 million schoolchildren until 2020, waivers will continue to be given to schools to let them opt out of having to serve whole-grain enriched foods, and they will be permitted to serve chocolate and flavored milk as long as it’s reduced-fat.
“We have to balance sodium and whole grain content with palatability,” Mr. Perdue said. He said schools should give students more of what they like to eat and that too much school food ends up in the trash. Waste is an issue, but that is a long-standing American problem not unique to school cafeterias. Moreover, some peer-reviewed studies have found, contrary to widely circulated anecdotal assertions, that the revised meal standards and policies appear to have lowered, not increased, food waste. In any event, as Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group pointed out, “Just because children would rather eat heavily salted processed foods at school doesn’t mean they should.” There are strategies that have proved successful at encouraging better eating habits, from cutting up fruit and setting up salad bars to involving children in food preparation to simply giving them more time to eat.
The changes ordered by the Trump administration — and reflected in a policy rider inserted by House Republicans in an appropriations bill — thankfully still leave in place most of the Obama administration’s nutrition rules, including requirements to serve fruits and vegetables to students. We hope that Mr. Perdue — who did add a salad to the chicken nuggets he lunched on at the Loudoun County school where the May 1 announcement was made — doesn’t plan to backtrack further on the progress that has been made in getting kids to eat healthier.