WASHINGTON — On the heels of a White House report that found most school lunches are too high in calories and fat, TV cook Rachael Ray joined a group of senators including Amy Klobuchar in pushing for healthier school lunches as part of an effort to reduce childhood obesity.
“It is the only level playing field we have when it comes to our kids to get good, quality food in them is the food that we provide in our public schools,” Ray said.
Part of the problem, the White House report found, is that students don’t always choose healthy options. No big surprise there — while 71 percent of school meals offered met federal guidelines for calories, just 49 percent of meals served hit the mark.
The other part is that healthy meals aren’t always offered. More than 70 percent of schools nationwide didn’t offer food that meets federal nutrition standards for saturated fat — the White House report explicitly noting that “french fries and other similar potato products accounted for a disproportionate amount of the vegetable options on school lunch menus.”
A fourth of kids entering grade school are obese, Klobuchar said at a press conference, and a third graduate from high school obese.
“No 5th grader is going to be able to necessarily make a smart decision when they’ve got french fries on one side and yogurt on the other,” Klobuchar said. “We want them to go to the yogurt, but they’re going to go for the french fries and many adults would do the same thing.”
Klobuchar has introduced legislation to allow the USDA to regulate all food and beverages sold on school campuses, including those in vending machines, a bill she highlighted Tuesday.
The focus is on school lunches in part because the school nutrition bill is up for reauthorization this year, and in part because of a concentrated media campaign led by celebrity chefs like Ray and Jamie Oliver that focuses on increasing the number of healthy meals in schools.
“I feel very strongly that either you pay now or you’re going to pay later,” Ray said. “We’ve just had this horrible, bloody battle about health care — think about the health care costs of the future if we don’t address this immediately.”