What Are They Feeding The Kids At School?

The always feisty Center For Science In The Public Interest has released a school lunch report card and while no state received an “A”, only Kentucky and Oregon are close to the CSPI’s standards. Oregon went from an F to an A-, but it wasn’t easy:

“You would think that with all the concern about childhood obesity that getting junk food and soda out of schools would be easy. But, it took us six years of hard work to pass our school nutrition legislation,” said Mary Lou Hennrich, executive director of the Community Health Partnership: Oregon’s Public Health Institute, who led Oregon’s effort to improve school foods. “We welcome national action to build on what we and other states have done and ensure that all children go to school in junk-food-free environments.”

Here’s the report card:

A- Kentucky (1), Oregon (2)

B+ Nevada (3), Alabama (4), Arkansas (5), California (6),Washington (6), New Mexico (7)

B New Jersey (8), Arizona (9), Tennessee (9)

B- Louisiana (10), Texas (11),,West Virginia (12), Connecticut (13), Rhode Island (14), Florida (15)

C+ Hawaii (16)

C Maine (17), Mississippi (18), Illinois (19), District of Columbia (20)

C- Colorado (21), South Carolina (22)

D+ New York (23), Maryland (24), North Carolina (25)

D Oklahoma (26), Virginia (27)

D- Indiana (28), Georgia (29)

F Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin, Wyoming (All ranked 30)

The states which received an F have only the standard USDA guidelines, which the CSPI argues are “woefully out of date” because the USDA doesn’t have the power to regulate foods that are sold outside of meal times (there is a national regulation that requires all schools to turn off their soft drink machines during lunch periods.)

The policy the CSPI rated #1 came from Kentucky and contains some fairly strict rules. No foods or beverages can be sold outside of the school lunch program until 1/2 hour after lunch periods end. No whole milk is allowed, only fat free or 1%. Water is allowed if it is noncaloric and un-carbonated. Only 100% juices are allowed. No sweetened beverages with more than 10 grams of sugar. No portion sizes over 17 oz for elementary schools, 20 oz for junior and senior high, and so on. There are portion controls on the menu items and sodium limits galore. Schools must limit sale of outside fast food (McDonald’s, Taco Bell, etc.) to no more than once a week.

We think the “no whole milk” rule is a bit draconian. Then again, when we were in high school they served Pizza Hut every other day, so perhaps our idea of what is normal is irrevocably skewed.

School Foods Report Card 2007 (PDF) [Center For Science In The Public Interest]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.