By: Caroline May
Republican Reps. Steve King of Iowa and Tim Huelskamp of Kansas continued their fight against the Agriculture Department's recent public school meal regulation overhaul on Friday.
The congressmen have argued that the new regulations imposed by the USDA, as required by the Michelle Obama-backed Healthy and Hunger Free Kids Act, are overly restrictive for growing and active children, largely due to calorie caps on meals.
"The voluminous menu that's good enough for the federal bureaucrats' cafeteria should be good enough for our children's school lunchroom," Huelskamp said in a statement Friday. "If USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack thinks the federal government should dictate what local governments put on their school lunchroom menus, why isn't he leading by example? Secretary Vilsack should impose his "Nutrition Nanny' standards on the USDA buildings' cafeteria menus before the USDA seizes control of lunchroom menus in 100,000 school districts."
King and Huelskamp introduced legislation Friday that would repeal the regulation that imposed the meal mandates. Their "No Hungry Kids Act" would eliminate upper calorie restrictions on public school meals.
Outcry from parents and students about the new meal plans hit a fever pitch last September as children returned to school and were met with the new meal requirements. Students complained of being hungry and some pointed out that many of the healthy food options were simply ending up in trashcans. The issue received further national attention when school children in Kansas produced a viral parody video showing students tired and weakened from a lack of sustenance.
Still, with the country's obesity epidemic, many have pointed out the potential benefits of more health-conscious menus.
"I think it's smart to be pre-emptive and proactive at getting more nutrition fed into the kids," Amos Johnson, a parent with students in the Lee Summit, Missouri school system, told the Lee's Summit Journal last year. "I see that more as a multi-beneficial supporter for health and academic performance. I think that's the thing I would look at. You should be healthier, and if you're nourishing the brain and getting the fuel right, academic outcomes should maintain or improve."
Michelle Obama, who has made fighting childhood obesity one of her most important issues as first lady, welcomed students back to school last year with a video introduction to the new meal plans.
"These healthy foods are good for you, they are good for your body, they'll give you energy and they'll make you stronger," Obama said in her welcome message.
"And they're also good for your mind. Studies show that when you eat healthy foods like fruit and vegetables that can actually help you pay attention in class and do a better job on your homework and tests. And that is really what this is all about, its about ensuring that all of you have everything you need to learn an grow and succeed in school and in life."
King and Huelskamp, whose earlier iteration of the "No Hungry Kids Act" died last September in committee, say that the federal government should not be putting all American school children on a diet, however.
"It's baseball season, and it's time to be outside exercising and playing, but also studying and learning," King said in a video Friday, featuring the Iowa congressman catching a baseball.
"We passed the [Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act] here in Congress in order to make sure that the kids going to school got enough to eat. And now we have the USDA capping the calories, putting every American student on a diet. They've limited the amount of calories that you can have and described the kind of nutrition that you must have, and it's everyone on a diet. My "No Hungry Kids Act' eliminates the calorie cap and puts them back to rewriting the rule again, so that these schools can serve our students as much nutritious food as they want, so that our students can grow and learn and excel, in school and out of school -- in the classroom and on the baseball field."