Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

Mostly Positive Responses To New School Lunch Guidelines

Critics and commentators have weighed in on the First Lady's new school lunch guidelines, and potato farmers are the only ones complaining.

Michelle Obama sitting in a school cafeteria, sharing lunch with elementary school students.

Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture (Flickr)

Pizza was not on the menu when Michelle Obama had lunch with students at Parklawn Elementary after unveiling new school lunch guidelines on Wednesday, January 25.

On January 25, Michelle Obama unveiled new guidelines for school lunches.

These new guidelines include more fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, a gradual reduction of sodium over the next ten years, limiting milk to no more than one percent fat (only skim milk may be flavored), and a ban on most trans fats. They also set minimum and maximum calorie intake per day based on student age.

Pizza is still a vegetable.

Responses to her announcement have been generally positive, from food critics, education critics, and the food industry alike.

A Step Forward

Food policy critic Marion Nestle acknowledges that the new standards “may not sound like much. But. . . [they] must be seen as a major step forward.”

Nutrition experts are also satisfied, by and large. Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says that “this is a very significant and comprehensive change that should improve the quality of school lunches.”

The food industry is also happy with the revisions. Corey Henry, vice President for Communications of the American Froze Food Institute, says, “From our perspective, the new rules improve school nutrition, but at the same time give schools the flexibility to serve a variety of foods to meet the standards. It’s a balanced approach that meets the goals of everyone involved.”

Second-Class Vegetable

One of the few critiques came from the National Potato Council. The new guidelines recommend that potatoes not be served more than twice weekly.

“We still feel like the potato is being downplayed in favor of other vegetables,” says Mark Szymanski, Council spokesman. “It seems the department still considers the potato a second-class vegetable.”

And… The Pizza Thing

Diane Pratt-Heavner of the School Nutrition Association, which represents school lunch workers, has said that many schools will not count pizza as a vegetable even though the guidelines say they can.

Students receiving free or subsidized lunches are already required to receive a certain amount of vegetables on their plates.

“Most schools are serving fruit or vegetables next to their pizza and some schools are even allowing unlimited servings of fruit or vegetables,” she says.

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Sarah Gordon

Sarah Gordon has been interested in food ethics since she was 15, learned about industrial slaughter, and launched into 10 years of vegetarianism. These days, she strives to be a conscientious omnivore. Now a PhD candidate in folklore, her research has caused her to spend a lot of time in the remote Canadian sub-arctic, where the lake trout (sustainably harvested) tastes amazing.

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