Editor’s Note: This was written by a school foodservice director and CIA grad working in a rural district. The author wished to remain anonymous.

First, it needs to be clear that the USDA and others are stating facts that most schools are doing just fine, are still in the program, etc. Sure, that may be true. But the fact is that nationally we have lost participation of paid students. The only ones doing better are those that have gained in free or reduced meal status or those that have chosen to use the new community eligibility where every child eats free. This is not an option unless you have [a certain percentage] of your students qualified through direct certification matching, a system that identifies those who are already eligible for supplemental food assistance (often referred to as food stamps). The fact is that this change is creating two classes. Those who have the means to obtain what they want and those who have a subsidized meal provided for them.
Next, Mrs. Obama, the USDA and others are claiming we have already taken on the majority of changes. That may be true but the next stages are unrealistic and drastic. In school nutrition we have already switched to whole grain rich for 50% or more of the grains, we are mandating fruit or vegetables, we have cut out sodium, we have thrown out the fryers and long ago banned candy, soda and other items. This is fine, and any school that says it is not should be voted off the island. We are doing pretty good with what we currently have in place.

The issue here is what is coming up next. A strict rule for 100% whole grain rich food items, drastic sodium reduction targets that would not even permit a single whole kosher dill pickle to be served. Yes, that’s right, the final targets for K-5 are that prescriptive. What we have is a system that is out of step with a diverse culture of food here in the U.S. Let’s take a few examples with sodium.
K-5 Sodium Target = 640mg for all five components. The smart snacks in schools program calls for entrees this year to have no more than 480mg of sodium. [Editor’s note: The 640mg is the final target for K-5 by 2022-23, although the new standard for July 1 of this year is 1,230mg and 1,420mg for grades 9-12. For the 2017-18 school year, the K-5 standard becomes 935mg and 1,080mg for 9-12.] The examples below do not include fruit, which is a required part of NSLP but these examples are used to illustrate issues with sodium.
Meal issue #1: Fresh roasted USDA turkey sandwich on whole grain bread with carrots and milk
Milk nonfat flavored = 180mg
Two slices of whole grain bread = 240mg
1 Portion USDA supplied carrots – canned = 140mg 9 (yes this is the food that the USDA buys and gives to schools to use)
Subtotal = 710mg
Now let’s add in some meat for that sandwich (don’t even think about adding in cheese)
USDA supplied raw turkey we roast in house = 300mg (2 meat equivalents)
Total = 860mg of sodium and we don’t even have any fruit or a second portion of vegetables on there…
Meal issue #2: Chef Salad with Turkey, low sodium American cheese, lite ranch dressing and whole grain bread
Milk nonfat white = 125mg
Lettuce, carrot, cabbage mix with romaine and iceberg = 30mg
USDA supplied raw turkey we roast in house = 150mg (1 meat equivalent)
USDA supplied American 30% reduced sodium cheese = 280mg (1 meat alternate equivalent)
Two slices of whole grain bread = 240mg
Ken’s lite ranch dressing = 340mg for 2 tablespoons. Realistically most Americans will eat 3 to 4 tablespoons on a salad.
Total = 1,165mg of sodium for something most Americans and I would assume opinion makers in the media would assume to be healthy. As an aside, have you ever reviewed the “healthy” items at Subway for sodium content?
Meal issue #3: An American child favorite, toasted cheese with tomato soup
Milk nonfat white = 125mg
Two slices of whole grain bread = 240mg
USDA supplied American 30% reduced sodium cheese = 420mg (1.5 meat alternate equivalent)
1 Cup Campbell’s Tomato Soup = 960mg
Total= 1,745mg of sodium. I wonder if you told American families that the USDA is making it illegal to serve whole grain, reduced sodium toasted cheese with Campbell’s tomato soup how they would respond?