First Lady Launching Full Scale Campaign To Combat School Lunch Program Critics

First lady Michelle Obama is stepping into the political arena Tuesday to fire back against school lunch critics who are “assaulting” her efforts to make school lunches healthier for kids. Critics include Republicans in Congress, the School Nutrition Association, and the nation’s schoolkids.

Mrs. Obama, who has championed new nutrition standards for school lunches, is expected to voice her views during a meeting with school teachers and nutrition experts.

The first lady “will stress the importance of students, parents, school officials, community leaders, and health advocates coming together to protect and advance the tremendous progress that has been made in schools across our country,” says the White House schedule.

The first lady, who insists that the school lunch program is working, will highlight a nutritionist from a rural Georgia school district who claims “the new lunch standards are popular and may have helped the school football team win a statewide competition.”

Not long ago, the first lady herself erroneously credited her program for reducing childhood obesity, but the decline began a decade ago.

The past president of the School Nutrition Association, Helen Phillips, is also scheduled to speak in support of the first lady’s Lets Move campaign at the event.

But the current leadership of SNA backs Republican legislation that would allow some districts to opt out of the federal mandates, a position they reached after consulting with school-district nutritionists.

“SNA’s request for flexibility does not come from industry or politics. It comes from thousands of school cafeteria professionals who have shown how these restrictive regulations are hindering their efforts to get students to eat healthy school meals,” SNA President Leah Schmidt told the Washington Post in an e-mailed statement.

Schmidt’s organization disputes administration claims that the program has been a success. “The administration’s own data shows that student participation is abruptly down in 48 states,” Schmidt said in her e-mail to The Post on Monday. “The White House needs to hear from the majority of school cafeteria professionals who are struggling to make these new standards work.”

Schmidt said her group supports the waiver as a temporary solution until Congress considers renewal of the school food law, which expires in 2015. White House officials and their allies see it as sinister. “It would gut the law,” says Margo Wootan, a nutrition expert with the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Sam Kass, who is the White House chef and director of Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move initiative, said the Republican bill is “a real assault” on the first lady’s efforts to make foods healthier for kids.

He said that Tuesday’s event with supporters of Mrs. Obama’s school lunch program, “is an attempt to point out the successes of some schools that have implemented the standards.”

“She wants to have a conversation about what is really happening out in the country,” Kass said. “These standards are working.”

But at the White House, today, the first lady’s  conversation is only with school officials who say the initiative is working well and oppose efforts to alter the top-down school meal rules.

According to the SNA, almost half of school meal programs reported declines in revenue in the 2012-13 school year, and 90 percent said food costs were up. 

In 2011, the L.A. Unified School District gave the first lady’s initiative a failing grade, declaring it to be a “flop” and a “disaster.” 

Principals reported “massive waste, with unopened milk cartons and uneaten entrees being thrown away.”

The problem has only worsened. The Los Angeles Times reported last month that the city’s students throw out “at least $100,000 worth of food a day — and probably far more,” which “amounts to $18 million a year.”

Draconian federal rules dictate calorie counts, whole-grain requirements, the number of items that children must put on their trays and even the color of the fruits and vegetables they must choose. Asked for a solution, LAUSD Food Service Director David Binkle told the Times bluntly: “We can stop forcing children to take food they don’t like and throw in the garbage.”

Oddly enough, one of the officials invited to the First Lady’s event at the White House, Tuesday, is from the Los Angeles Unified School District who will be talking about “the city’s success in putting in place higher dietary standards than those required by the 2010 federal law.”

FOX 4 News in Kansas City queried area parents Tuesday morning for their reactions to the first lady’s school lunch program.

Comments included one from a parent who said her kindergartener cried at the thought of eating the inedible school lunches.

“The food provided as school lunch is not even edible. My 5-year old isn’t picky and she cries if we accidentally forget to pack her lunch,” said Jaye Anne Isom-Moloski on our facebook page.

“Yes it motivates us to send actual healthy food from home so our child doesn’t have to eat school lunches,” said Jennifer Smith-Mcwhirt.