Not that school lunches were ever anything to write home about, but a lunch room rebellion in Kansas reveals that since the White House and Congress joined in an effort to make the midday meal healthier, kids' bellies are rumbling more loudly than ever. [Check out our gallery of political cartoons.]
Unhappy with provisions of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, Students and Teachers at Wallace County High School in Sharon Spring, Kan., staged a protest video to the tune of Fun's "We Are Young."
The video depicts kids collapsing during volleyball practice, dreaming of mac n' cheese in class, and stashing junk food in their lockers.
Under the Hunger-Free Kids Act rules, school lunches have to be packed full of fruits and veggies, but contain fewer than 850 calories. Teachers in Kansas say the restrictions have limited the amount of protein and carbohydrates students see on their lunch trays and are significantly affecting kids' ability to concentrate in class and participate in after-school sports.
"I have been a teacher for 20 years, and this is the worst that it's ever been. Our kids eat at 12:06 p.m., and they are hungry by 1:30 p.m.," says Linda O'Connor, a high school English teacher and video collaborator. "This is not meant to be a political statement. We just wanted to let people know what is going on in the schools."
O'Connor says she was inspired to write the lyrics for the video after a fellow teacher posted a picture of a student's lunch tray on her Facebook page. The main course of the meal was a piece of cheese bread with marinara sauce.
"There was no meat in the sauce," O'Connor says. "They said the cheese was the protein and there was barely any cheese."
The USDA responded to the video with a statement Tuesday defending the current standards of the healthy kids legislation. [Why Democrats Won't Win Back the House.]
"One in three children in America is overweight or obese and at risk for diabetes," Consumer Services Under Secretary Kevin Concannon said. "School meals play a critical role in reinforcing what kids are learning about nutrition and healthy foods in the classroom and at home."
The USDA says the new program was crafted with careful consideration from parents, doctors, and nutritionists to replace an outdated meal plan.
"USDA proposed updated, science-based nutrition standards, which provide significant flexibility for local schools to develop their own menus to ensure children have the energy they need," Concannon said.
Still, some in Congress are fighting to toss out the recent legislation.
Kansas Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp and Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King teamed up last week with a new bill that would throw out the calorie restrictions and allow school cooks to set their own nutrition standards.
"It seems like good intentions out of the White House," Huelskamp says. "But one size doesn't fit all in the school lunch room."
Huelskamp says he began hearing from cooks over the summer who were scratching their heads, trying to figure out a way to create delicious and filling meals under the strict guidelines.
"The meals they came up with might fit the rules, but at the end of the day, we are hearing the trash cans are full."