Rep. Vicky Hartzler trying to lessen school lunch restrictions

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COLUMBIA - The nutrition of school lunches has been an emphasis for Michelle Obama during her time as first lady. 

However, Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) is opposed to some of the regulations Obama has endorsed and is co-sponsoring a bill to makes changes. Hartzler talked about those issues Thursday with the Jefferson Middle School Student Council, Principal Dr. Greg Caine and Columbia Public School Nutrition Services Director Laina Fullum. 

Hartzler ate a school-provided pasta dish with the students while discussing what would make lunches more appealing to them. Some students said they would prefer food that is more attractive to look at.

"We know we eat with our eyes before we eat with out mouth," Hartzler said. "I think that's certainly part of it."

The new dietary standards were put in place by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and, in 2014, Obama said there were noticeable improvements in children's health. 

In 2013, the USDA issued the "Smart Snacks in School" rule which set a limit on students' intake of calories, sugar, fats and sodium as well as made all snack foods sold in school be "whole grain-rich."

However, many school nutritionists around the country have said the new rules are costly and have led to waste of food and money as students choose not to eat the healthier options. 

Hartzler said that. while the idea of being healthy is good, the regulations go too far. 

"If these regulations continue, 100 percent of all the grains will have to be made with whole wheat and there will be very, very little salt added to the food," she said. "This is making it unpalatable for a lot of the kids."

So Hartzler is trying to allow for school districts to make their own guidelines. She would like to decrease the percentage for whole wheat down to 50 and maintain the current sodium level. She said otherwise it might completely rule out foods like pasta and tortillas. 

She said she hopes less strict regulations would cause a greater number of kids to choose to eat a healthy school-provided lunch instead of a possibly less-healthy meal from home.

"We don't want food to be thrown away and that is happening too often across the county in the school districts with these new regulations," she said. "It forces, it mandates, that every student have a fruit or vegetable whether they want it or not."

Hartzler talked about the current 800 calorie limit schools currently have to enforce on students for lunch. She said that is not enough for many kids, especially those in athletics.