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The federal government maintains an $11.6 billion school lunch program feeding 31 million students daily. In 2010 First Lady Michelle Obama championed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which as this report notes “imposed a dizzying array of requirements on calories, portion sizes, even the color of fruits and vegetables to be served.” The rules, finalized in 2012, also increased the amount of fruits, vegetables and whole grains that must be offered, imposing higher costs on school districts. Students must take at least three items, including one fruit or vegetable, even if they don’t want them, or the federal government refuses to reimburse school districts for the meals. The result is massive waste.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, second largest in the nation, serves 650,000 meals a day. Students throw out at least $100,000 of food a day according to district officials, approximately $18 million a year. The Breakfast in the Classroom program, which requires students to take all items offered, is also wasteful. The federal rules also forbid taking the wasted food off campus.
According to a 2013 study by Brigham Young University based on Utah schools, the extra produce costs school districts $5.4 million a day, with $3.8 million of that being tossed in the trash. Other studies find “significant waste,” including 40 percent of all the lunches served in four Boston schools. Nationally, the annual cost of wasted food is more than $1 billion.
The Los Angeles Times editorialized that the lunch program is “afflicted by rigid, overreaching regulations that defy common sense” and the rules “practically guarantee” enormous waste. But politically correct nutritionists defend the new rules and politicians are reluctant to trim, much less toss, a federal program intended to help children. Politicians are fond of appraising programs on intentions, not results, costs or common sense. So at school nationwide the waste will continue to pile up, with taxpayers picking up the tab.