Modify, don’t abandon meal standards

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Contraband was one of the most interesting things administrators and school board members in the Andalusia City School system learned from a series of surveys conducted in the past year as part of a strategic planning process.

Yes, there is contraband in our city schools. And before you envision teens smoking or sliping on campus a bottle of pills, know that the child of a board member sneaked out of the house with a whole box of salt.

Yes, salt. It is everywhere in grown-up world, but it also is the contraband we learned about from those surveys. The healthy federal meal standards for school lunches limits salt and fats, and emphasizes fruits and vegetables.

Of course, kids don’t like it. They would prefer to maintain a steady diet of burgers, variations of fried chicken, pizza and fries. Not many among us prefer healthy choices to tastier ones.

Child nutrition coordinators in the three local school systems have talked about the challenges of complying with the standards, but seem to have found ways to meet the standards. Grants have also helped provide different fruits and vegetables to local children, and this past year, every child at Andalusia Elementary got a free (and healthy) breakfast.

So it is not likely that an agriculture spending bill written by Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Haleyville, Ala.) and passed last month by the subcommittee he chairs, will pass.

The measure would allow schools to “temporarily” opt out of the healthy standards, citing complaints from schools in their abilities to comply. The measure was scheduled for a vote that has since been postponed, as some in the GOP are uncomfortable with being tagged as opposing healthier school meals.

President Barack Obama has pledged to veto any bill containing that provision. That’s not surprising, considering first lady Michelle Obama is the biggest champion of the new standards.

We’re sympathetic to challenges of meeting the standards, and convincing children to eat what is served. The first lady has gotten it right in recent interviews, when she said it’s the responsibility of adults to “make sure kids eat what they need, not what they want.”

That’s not overkill; that’s parenting. It’s also an urgent problem given the surging rates of childhood obesity and associated diseases.

The White House has signaled support for a Senate bill that would delay the sodium requirements, but keep the fruit and vegetable requirements. It also would provide additional assistance and guidance to schools that are struggling to meet the new standards.

That seems to be a healthier compromise than abandoning all of the standards. As is often the case when kids are involved, they’ll hate you now but love you later.