First lady Michelle Obama says that despite children being upset over healthier school lunch options, she will not be deterred from her goal to improve childhood nutrition.
New requirements for school snacks demand that options in vending machines are 200 calories or less, contain less than 35% saturated fat, and 0 grams of trans fat. The new changes have brought on an outcry on social media from students who can no longer purchase their favorite snacks at school.
“Change is hard,” the first lady said in an interview with Channel One. “And the thing about highly processed, sugary, salty food is that you get addicted to it. I don’t want to just settle because it’s hard.”
The change has also increased the arguments from Congressional Republicans, who are asking for some schools to be allowed to opt out of the new rules. According to the lawmakers, the new snacks are increasing costs for schools, and students are not purchasing the healthy foods because they simply don’t like them.
“Remember a few years ago when Congress declared that the sauce on a slice of pizza should count as a vegetable in school lunches?” the first lady wrote in The New York Times. “You don’t have to be a nutritionist to know that this doesn’t make much sense. Yet we’re seeing the same thing happening again with these new efforts to lower nutrition standards in our schools.”
Obama had lobbied for years for the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, requiring more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to be included in school lunches. The act also called for lunch options with less sugar, fat and sodium.
But now the School Nutrition Association, who previously supported the effort, has changed their minds, stating that while they would like to see kids eating healthier, the Act is causing many districts to lose money. Of the districts contacted by the association, 81.2% reported losing money as students throw away their lunches.
A study from Cornell and Brigham Young universities found that almost $4 million in food is being wasted every day as a result of the new regulations.
Since the act went into effect in 2012, there has been a drop in the amount of students who purchase school lunches — over 1 million students fewer. Prior to that date, that number had seen a steady increase.
The association is asking Congress to consider allowing districts to apply to skip the requirements for one year through a House bill. The Obama administration has said they plan to veto that bill.
Critics of the association are raising concerns that the change of heart stems from the food industry, many of whom are high-paying members of the SNA and also supply schools with their food.
Obama contends that there is a way to offer a healthy school lunch that still tastes good.
“Look, I wouldn’t want to eat a nasty lunch either. Quite frankly, no one wants to eat bad food,” Obama said.
Obama added that she does not “want to give up because it’s expensive.”