Meal rules bittersweet

School districts can offer healthier food, but that doesn’t mean students will eat it.

While that doesn’t mean more nutritious meals should be abandoned, officials should take another look at the federal rules for school lunch and breakfast programs.

Greater Johnstown School District Food Service Program Director Teal Carpenter recently gave an update on her program to the district’s Board of Education.

The regulations say students must take a fruit and vegetable to ensure the government reimburses the school for the cost of the meals. She said students sometimes throw those items into the wastebasket.

Carpenter also described how meals must be broken up by grade groups. Each group has a different caloric range and a serving size. One of those groups is sixth through eighth grade, which is problematic because it encompasses both the elementary schools and Knox Junior High School.

If the food staff recognizes a child is in sixth grade versus fifth grade, he or she may get an extra item, such as an extra chicken nugget. Expecting the food staff to recognize which students are in which grades seems unrealistic.

In addition, forcing kids to take food they will only throw away seems terribly wasteful.

The push for healthier school meals got a big boost from the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The federal law calls for reduced calorie counts, fat and sodium.

The revised nutrition standards largely are good. There will always be some students who insist on eating junk food, but most will benefit from healthier meals.

But when schools, solely to meet regulations, are forcing students to take food they know will become garbage, something is amiss.