The USDA National School Lunch Program (NSLP), is a federally assisted meal program, offering breakfast and lunches to students in schools across the country. This year in an effort to combat childhood obesity, First Lady Michelle Obama and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack have unveiled new guidelines for school meals, the first changes in more than 15 years. The changes impact nearly 32 million kids who participate in school meal programs every school day, and for many, school lunches are the only decent meal a child gets in a day. The new meal requirements are part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was a focus of the First Lady as part of her Let’s Move! campaign and signed into law by President Obama.
Effectively starting at the beginning of the 2012-13 school year, the new standards include: “Ensuring students are offered both fruits and vegetables every day of the week; Substantially increasing offerings of whole grain-rich foods; Offering only fat-free or low-fat milk varieties; Limiting calories based on the age of children being served to ensure proper portion size; and Increasing the focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium.”
Calories are also capped at 850 calories, and high schoolers are now offered 10-12 ounces of protein for the five-day school week. That equates to just 2 ounces per day. These changes aren’t making the cut for many families, and one ranch mom shares her “beef” with the school lunch program, challenging other moms and their children to take a stand to impact change to better nourish children in schools.
Katie Pinke is a fifth generation farmer located near Wishek, ND. Her extended family raises barley, pinto beans, winter wheat, soybeans, corn and cattle near Aneta, ND. Pinke is the marketing and information division director for the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, and her husband, Nathan, owns and operates Pinke Lumber Company, a full-service lumberyard. They have three children, Hunter, 15, Elizabeth, 4, and Anika, 3. With Hunter in the high school, she is seeing first-hand the impact of the school lunch changes.
“Our son Hunter is in ninth grade; he’s 6’5” and 210 pounds; he needs nearly 5,000 calories per day to maintain his weight because of his high level of activity,” she said. “The USDA school lunch program now mandates calorie limits. The USDA lunch program restricts bread, meat and dairy also but requires fruits and vegetables. Hunter is hungry. He cannot get enough calories in school without paying for additional lunches.
Hunter now packs his own lunch from home, and on game days, his grandma makes him a big homemade meal at her house, which is across the street from the school, so Hunter can have a wholesome meal before he competes. They are making it work, but Pinke is frustrated that the school lunch program doesn’t do a better job of nourishing her child.
“As a mom, I am frustrated with the calorie restrictions along with lack of meat and bread,” she said. “I am all for healthy eating but I believe in food choice, not food mandates. The limits and mandates don’t hurt my kids the most. The kids that are hurt the most are the 67 percent of kids who qualify for free and reduced lunches and 84 percent of kids who qualify for free and reduced breakfasts across the USA. They aren’t getting enough energy to learn, grow and be active. If these mandates are to combat obesity I think we need outreach and education to increase kids activity and teach healthy living, not mandate calorie intake.”
Pinke challenges communities to use their voices to affect change.
“Contact your elected officials. Write the USDA. Share your story in your personal outlets whether it’s with your local community groups, farm organizations and in social media,” she urged.
An idea adapted from friend, Chris Chinn, a hog farmer in Missouri, Pinke challenges kids to sign paper plates and send them to:
Undersecretary of Food & Nutrition Services
1400 Independence Ave, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20250
Secretary of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20250
“I engaged in this effort because of my active son not getting enough calories in our public school,” she explained. “I believe in sharing your voice when you have concerns to create change through a community effort. We have to listen to others who have opposing views, engage in conversations, create content in our own words and share.”
Pinke teamed up with Chinn and fellow ranch mom Val Wagner to spread the word and share their concerns about the USDA lunch program. You can check out Pinke’s blog post about it here: http://www.pinkepost.com/2012/08/school-lunch-solutions-with-linky.html
Shortly after, a community of people created Sensible School Lunches on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SensibleSchoolLunches
“The effort is far-reaching now with everyone from high school students to elected officials speaking out on the issue, but I believe this issue has not truly hit main stream media yet or resonated enough with urban moms, school officials, the USDA and of course, the First Lady, who is very vocal about school lunches and childhood obesity,” she said. “Until the USDA has lifted mandates and restrictive calorie guidelines, we cannot quit speaking out and sharing on this issue. Even then, we have to keep talking about the importance of food choices and continue outreach about healthy living. This is not just for my lone hungry, active teenage son. I am advocating for all children, no matter their location or demographic to be given a chance at success in our public schools. But they cannot begin to achieve success if they are hungry.”
Follow Pinke’s advocacy efforts on her blog at www.pinkepost.com. She is also active on Facebook and Twitter.