Editorials

Whole grains aren’t the enemy. They should stay on school lunch menus.

How will loosening of school lunch standards affect children’s lunches in San Luis Obispo? Alexia Ruiz, 12, right, eats her cafeteria lunch of a ham and pineapple pizza slice and fruit with friend Sarah Bailey, 12, who’s eating a lunch she brought from home.
How will loosening of school lunch standards affect children’s lunches in San Luis Obispo? Alexia Ruiz, 12, right, eats her cafeteria lunch of a ham and pineapple pizza slice and fruit with friend Sarah Bailey, 12, who’s eating a lunch she brought from home. ldickinson@thetribunenews.com

It’s disappointing that, as one of his first official acts, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue would move to undercut Obama-era nutritional standards aimed at serving schoolchildren healthier foods.

Why are we backing away from standards requiring schools to cut down on sodium and use mostly whole grains? According to Perdue, it’s because kids don’t like the healthier foods.

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“If kids aren’t eating the food, and it’s ending up in the trash, they aren’t getting any nutrition — thus undermining the intent of the program,” he said.

What kind of message does that send?

He might as well have said, “Healthy food is yucky, kids, so you don’t have to eat it.”

To be fair, schools aren’t going to serving first-graders bologna sandwiches on white bread with a side of potato chips. However, Perdue is giving school districts the ability to apply for waivers allowing them to serve fewer whole grain items. Also, all districts will be allowed to offer low-fat chocolate milk (only fat-free flavored milk was allowed before), and they will not be required to meet more stringent sodium standards set to take effect next year.

School districts do have the option of sticking with the stricter, Obama-era guidelines. Food service directors we spoke with at two local districts — San Luis Coastal Unified and Lucia Mar Unified in the South County — said they plan to do so.

Fifth-graders in San Luis Coastal Unified School District recently wrote papers arguing whether to bring back chocolate milk to school lunches. Here, Food Services Director Erin Primer talks about the results - and what might or might not change t

Good for them; we urge all local districts to do the same.

We have no doubt that it’s a challenge to cook food for hundreds — even thousands — of students who have a wide range of preferences. Heck, many families even find it a challenge to get just three or four people to agree on a meal.

But the fall-back position should not be to ditch healthier food because kids aren’t eating it, without bothering to find out where the problem lies. It may have nothing to do with the food itself, but how it’s prepared.

Kids are like adults. They don’t like bad food. If bread is stale, it doesn’t matter if it’s white or whole wheat. They won’t eat it. The same goes for limp lettuce and overripe bananas.

When properly prepared, whole grains and low-sodium meals taste just fine and they contribute to better health.

Please, let’s keep them on the menu at our schools.

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