The above photo of a skimpy, federally-mandated school lunch was taken by 17-year-old Chickasha, OK student Kaytlin Shelton, who complained that the paltry portions typically served at school contain insufficient calories. Considering the fact that she is pregnant and expecting a child, the one-size-fits-all school lunch regulations that were passed under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, a statute endorsed by First Lady Michelle Obama and aimed at combating childhood obesity, are failing to meet her nutritional needs. The photo has since gone viral, inspiring outrage among parents and forcing the school system’s superintendent to weigh in on the issue.
According to KOKH-TV, Chickasha Public Schools Superintendent David Cash blames new federal school lunch regulations for the school system’s calorie-restricted meals, which he said are forcing kids to go hungry, “You’ve got in some cases little kids that their only two meals are breakfast and lunch at school and they’re getting you know a grand total of 1100 calories. That’s not enough.” The Daily Caller notes that, under the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act, school districts that accept federal dollars for school lunches must provide meals like the one pictured above with limited amounts of fat, sugar, sodium, and calories.
Oklahoma Assistant Superintendent for Child Nutrition Joanie Hildenbrand indicated that the age-based calorie caps built into the new law have frustrated officials. She told KOKH-TV, “We have a meat-meat alternate, we have a bread grain, we have vegetable… it’s the student’s choice of what they want to take.” However, the calorie limits cause extreme caloric deficits when kids choose not to eat some of the items on the already-restricted plate. Hildenbrand said, “These regulations were put into effect two years ago and we’re still struggling with them.”
Superintendent Cash acknowledged that the calorie caps leave many kids hungry. He said, “I know they are [hungry]… there is no doubt about that. My own kid comes home and the first thing he does is raid the refrigerator.” The law’s calorie restrictions have also been criticized for failing to meet the needs of poor kids who get most of their food from school lunches and athletes who need higher caloric intakes to meet their nutritional needs.
The regulations only apply to school systems that receive federal funding through the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act. The Daily Caller‘s education editor Eric Owens wrote, “Some school districts — particularly wealthier ones — have opted out of the healthy-lunch regime and the federal dollars that come with it.” As an example, USA Today reported back in August of 2014 that a local school district in Fort Thomas, KY ended its participation in the program after kids refused to eat the provided meals. Fort Thomas Superintendent Gene Kirchner, said, “The calorie limitations and types of foods that have to be provided … have resulted in the kids just saying ‘I’m not going to eat that.'”