District Administration August 2017 - 9
By Tim Goral
School food service departments in
large cities were writing off hundreds of
thousands of dollars in unpaid school
lunch bills. Then it's very often principals who have the responsibility for
trying to collect this unpaid lunch debt
The school lunch-shaming arose as
an attempt by food service departments
to reduce the incidence of unpaid lunch
bills. I've read how some schools use
hand stamps. They're trying to send a
message home, "I owe for lunch," but
once again that sets up the kid for ridicule and bullying.
Many readers probably remember
school lunch being a good, nutritious
meal. What changed?
The short answer is the industrialization
of food. But there are a few components
that are specific to the school food story.
One is liability. There were some highprofile cases in which school districts
had been held liable for children who
were sickened by school food. One result
of that was to shift the liability up the
stream. So, if you make hamburgers from
fresh, raw meat and someone gets sick,
the liability is the school's. But if you buy
precooked hamburgers from a supplier,
and all you do is reheat them in a convection oven, the liability is the supplier's.
A second element was labor costs. As
school food workers began to be eligible
for healthcare and retirement benefits,
they became more expensive for school
systems to employ. School systems reacted to rising labor costs by trying to
A third factor certainly has to do with
what kids are accustomed to. As home
cooking declined, and kids became more
accustomed to handheld, fast-food kind
of service, that's what they were looking
for at school.
We need to see the cafeteria as a classroom and
as part of the school day. We need
to serve meals that embody what we want
kids to know about food.
The Obama administration started the
Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act to set
nutrition guidelines. The Trump administration wants to roll back those
guidelines. Does that concern you?
There was a sense of panic among advocates of healthy school food when the
Trump administration came in, but it
wasn't as bad as it sounded.
What I mean by that is, health advocates were prepared for a massive rollback. In the end, there were only three
standards that were affected by Sec. of
Agriculture Sonny Perdue's ruling.
The first one was to allow schools to
offer 1 percent fat chocolate milk, as well
as fat-free chocolate milk. They were already offering 1 percent unflavored milk,
so this just allowed them to offer the
1 percent as chocolate milk.
The second was the sodium standard.
Sodium levels overall in the U.S. diet
are so high that to impose what the
National Academies of Science regarded
as a healthy limit on schools would
result in school food being totally out
of sync with the rest of the food in our
culture-and probably unappealing to
So, they adopted a three-staged approach to reducing those levels. Stage
one called for a significant sodium
reduction. That has already been implemented nationwide and schools are
required to meet it.
Stage two was to be a further reduction, but the Perdue revisions will
delay the implementation of that and,
obviously, also delay reaching stage
three-the National Academies of Science levels.
You can make a case that reducing
sodium levels at school is one important
means to reducing the taste for salt in
our national diet. However, food service
professionals will definitely tell you that
if there's too big a gap between what
they offer at school and what kids are
encountering in the culture, kids just
won't eat the school food.
What was the third standard?
That had to do with whole grain. The
standard says that all grain products
served in school meals have to be at least
51 percent whole grains.
Schools had some difficulty meeting
that standard because the market hadn't
had time to respond and those products
weren't readily available at affordable
The USDA established a waiver
option, so schools that had difficulty
meeting this standard would get waivers.
Basically, all the new Perdue standard
does is extend that waiver option.
Again, I'm not apologizing for it, but
I'm saying don't panic. We are not seeing
the total overthrow of the big important
changes that were part of the Healthy
Hunger Free Kids Act. DA
Tim Goral is senior editor.
August 2017 9
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of District Administration August 2017
District Administration August 2017 - Cover1
District Administration August 2017 - Cover2
District Administration August 2017 - 1
District Administration August 2017 - 2
District Administration August 2017 - 3
District Administration August 2017 - 4
District Administration August 2017 - 5
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