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What’s for lunch?

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School lunches should not be a political issue, certainly not a federal concern. But they are both.

Ever since the federal government reduced the calorie limit for school lunches and mandated more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, school meals have become controversial. Kids have rejected many of the offerings under the new program, or they have started bringing their lunch.

Serving more nutritious food at school cafeterias is a fine and important idea. The goal of the program, inspired by first lady Michelle Obama, is to fight childhood obesity — a worthy cause. But something got lost in the bureaucracy’s implementation of the program.

For one thing, students are not getting enough to eat because the calorie limit is set too low and the portions are not adequate in many cases. For example, athletes who burn up hundreds of calories in after-school practices are not getting all the nourishment they need under the current federal standards.

One drawback is lack of flexibility in the new U.S. Department of Agriculture standards. Schools need to be able to accommodate their students’ taste buds as well as their appetites. Cafeterias should be able to serve balanced meals, offer plenty of choices and give the children enough to eat.

Over the years, schools locally and elsewhere have done a valiant job of supplementing the diets of students who do not get enough to eat at home. They have done so out of compassion, but also because a hungry child is not as fortified to learn as one who has had a good breakfast or lunch.

By cutting back too severely on meal portions, the federal government does a disservice to children — certainly not the intended result of the program. But it also creates an educational problem when kids are hungry.

Schools dependent on the federal money the USDA program provides are obligated to follow the rules or lose the funding. But students, in many cases, do not like the meals. More food is being wasted. The portions are inadequate.

The feds need to ease the rules, grant schools more flexibility and allow adequate meal portions to be served.

Better for Washington to set some general guidelines and let qualified people at our local schools determine what their children need. Schools are rather good at this.

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