Should the Federal Government Be Involved in School Food?

school lunchGood news for school lunch advocates: Just last week Congress introduced the Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act (the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act), which will increase funding by $800 million a year. This bill, first introduced in 1964, provides nutritional standards and some funding for school food, among many other things. 

Parents all over the country, not to mention Rachael Ray and Slow Food USA, have been tirelessly demanding more money for better school food. After all, is there a more worthy investment than in our children's health? Compare that with the $300-plus billion we'll spend this year in Afghanistan and ... okay, let's not go there. But not everyone is thrilled with this bill.


In message boards and comment sections all over, I've been hearing cries of "nanny state!" "Why is the federal government meddling with our kids' food?" "It's the parents' responsibility to feed their kids, not the government's!" These comments usually come from small government advocates. Hunger organizations counter that many families cannot afford to feed their children and that it's unfair -- and impractical -- to make poor children go hungry at school.

It's been estimated that schools currently spend about $1.68 on labor and overhead (equipment, cafeteria, etc.) per meal -- that's not counting the food itself. The federal government reimburses schools $2.40 per meal for children who qualify for free lunch. Subtract labor and overhead and that leaves about 72 cents for the food.

So what do you think? Should school food be privatized? Should the government be setting nutritional standards or should that be handled by the state -- or by parents themselves? How else would we solve problems of child hunger?


Image: Jamie Buschemi/Flickr

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