New federal nutrition standards for school lunchrooms have become a lightning rod for Obama administration opponents, who criticize them for prompting lunchroom waste, higher food costs for school districts, and sending students home hungry.
But now proponents of the guidelines, designed in part to combat the childhood obesity issue, have some ammunition to counter such critics.
A survey of more than 500 public elementary school administrators and food service staff conducted during the 2012-13 school year has found 70% reporting their students generally like the healthier lunch options that were created in 2012 as part of the updated meal standards by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“There have been concerns that kids didn't like the meals,” said Lindsey Turner, lead author of the study that was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and published in the August issue of the journal Childhood Obesity. “I think our study really showed that that's not the case at all.”
The findings appear to contradict claims by critics, who contend that the meal requirements make it too costly for many school districts to comply, which they say has led to a number of them deciding to leave the program.
Under 2010's Healthy Hunger–Free Kids Act, the USDA changed the nutrition standards of meals being served under the National School Lunch Program, requiring an increase in whole grains and daily offerings of fruits and vegetables. Milk has been limited to nonfat or 1% options under the new guidelines, which also ban transfats.
School meal nutrition standards have been at the center of an ongoing debate in the House of Representatives for months.