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They may take our lives, but they’ll never take…OUR BISCUITS!


Late last month, Chief of School Nutrition Services for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction Dr. Lynn Harvey appeared before the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce.  Dr. Harvey’s testimony was a powerful indictment of federal regulations pushed by the Obama administration and passed by Congress in 2010.

As Dr. Harvey pointed out, the Obama administration and lawmakers had the best intentions in mind.  They recognized that childhood obesity is a serious problem and believed that modifying federal School Nutrition Program regulations would begin counteracting it.

As usual, it did not go as planned. 

Dr. Harvey commented on "the new regulations that, while well-intended, have increased the complexity of the program and have created unintended consequences."  Those unintended consequences were outlined in a letter sent to the committee by Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson.  Atkinson wrote that the regulations,

  • Decreased student participation in school meals (5% overall in North Carolina);
  • Increased food cost with some newly required meal components costing 2 — 3 times more than other similar items;
  • Increased food waste as students are forced to take food they do not like and do not intend to eat;
  • Some students have been priced out of the program as a result of mandatory meal price increases for paying students;
  • Diminished capacity to generate critical revenues in the a la carte food/beverage aspect of the program that are required to sustain the program financially;
  • Reductions in staff as SFAs have had to balance higher food costs by reducing staff;
  • Reliance on local education funds to offset revenue losses in the School Nutrition Programs; and
  • Other areas that impact program viability and sustainability.

North Carolina served 13 million fewer meals and lost $3.4 million in commodity entitlement funding as a result of decreased student participation.  Why are an unprecedented number of students fleeing the program or discarding most of their meals?  The answer is simple — whole grains.

Dr. Harvey reported that, "Over 90% of School Nutrition Directors in North Carolina cite the requirement for 100% of all grains to be whole grain-rich products as the leading cause of student dissatisfaction with the school meal programs."  Students are accustomed to food made with refined (white) flour.  Breads, pizza crusts, and other baked goods prepared with whole grains produce a distinctly different texture and taste than those prepared with refined flour.  Most children have acquired a taste for the latter and not the former.

Most importantly, the switch to whole grains has ruined staples of the Southern diet — biscuits and corn muffins.  Dr. Harvey noted that whole grain flour produces "products that are dense, compact, dry and crumbly instead of light, moist, tender and flakey."  (There is a good reason why Bojangles and Biscuitville do not offer whole grain biscuits.)  She speculated that changes to biscuit and corn muffin recipes are a major reason why breakfast participation has decreased by 60 percent in North Carolina.

Due to complaints about the whole grain requirement, Congress provided "whole grain waivers" in the Omnibus Appropriations bill.  North Carolina received whole grain waivers for 110 school nutrition programs.  Let’s face it.  The fact that the federal government was forced to issue "whole grain waivers" is ridiculous. Unfortunately, it is also indicative of the type of micro-managing policies championed by the political class, codified by lawmakers, and enforced by federal bureaucrats.

In addition to the problems caused by the whole grain requirement, states are forced to comply with "Smart Snacks" regulations, which apply to a la carte, school store, and vending machine items.  Schools must replace bad snacks (chocolate bars, cookies, and regular soda) with good ones (peanuts, granola bars, and no-calorie flavored water).  Harvey said that the switch generated over $20 million in lost revenues this year.

In fact, as a result of federal regulations, over half of North Carolina’s school nutrition programs are in the red.  In addition, operating balances have declined to the point that many districts are forced to divert additional funds to the school nutrition program to compensate for the loss.

In the end, Dr. Harvey offered a number of ways that Congress could give school districts and states more flexibility in the operation of school nutrition programs, but she missed the most obvious one — don’t mess with our biscuits.

Acronym of the Week

NSLP — National School Lunch Program

Quote of the Week

"We all know the important role healthy food plays in a child’s education. We cannot expect children to learn or excel in the classroom if they are hungry or are not properly nourished.  The question we want to answer today is: are federal policies giving you the tools and flexibility you need to succeed in implementing child nutrition programs so that your students can succeed in the classroom?"

– Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) in a press release on behalf of the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education

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