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Bob Goodlatte: School lunches that kids will eat

goodlattefourinHeavy-handed federal regulations have seeped into nearly every aspect of American life, including school lunches Just a few days ago, I had the opportunity to visit with food service staff at Elkton Middle School and enjoy a good lunch with 7th graders. These folks take pride in the food they prepare and enjoy serving students. They are not opposed to nutritional requirements, but as more federal regulations are passed down the line it has become increasingly difficult to prepare food that complies with federal requirements and that students will actually eat. At a visit to Waynesboro High School a few months ago, the concerns were similar.

Child nutrition programs are vitally important. A growing child cannot learn very well when he or she is hungry. The school lunch program helps ensure our nation’s children are fed and able to reach their full potential in the classroom. However, instead of providing local school administrators and school nutrition professionals with useful information and flexibility to serve nutritious meals to students, the Department of Agriculture has over-regulated the school lunch program. In turn, this has made it difficult for school districts to tailor their meals to their own population of students and still remain afloat in their budgets.

At the root of this problem is the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in 2010. While the nutrition goals of the school lunch program created by this bill were not ill-intentioned, the regulations created by it are unworkable and unsustainable in reality. For this reason, I voted against the bill in the House of Representatives.

This law places burdensome, unfunded mandates on local school districts and state governments, increasing the prices for some lunches and allowing federal bureaucrats to determine what foods children can and cannot be served at school.  Since this law went into effect, we have seen that school districts, including those throughout the Sixth Congressional District, have experienced challenges in meeting these onerous requirements, and for some, the number of students participating in the school lunch program has actually decreased.

While we can all agree that a nutritious school lunch is important, we must be careful to not let federal bureaucrats run local school lunch programs. I am concerned that we are seeing heavy-handed federal regulations having an effect contrary to the one intended by the law, that of discouraging students from eating school lunch or threatening the financial viability of these programs.

I believe teachers, parents, and school administrators, those closest to our students, know better than Washington bureaucrats how to provide nutritious lunches that their students will choose to eat. I will continue working to find ways to provide local schools with the flexibility they need in the lunch line while still ensuring that our taxpayer dollars are being spent responsibly.

Bob Goodlatte represents Virginia’s Sixth District in Congress.