August 27 2013

You Can Lead a Kid to Kale, but You Can't Make Her Eat It

Charlotte Hays

The one thing central planners never count on: human behavior.

The Obama administration may have thought that it could change eating habits by ordering public schools to serve First Lady-approved menus in their cafeterias.

But that is not how it’s working out in the real world. Quite a few schools around the nation, it seems, are cutting their ties to federal lunch programs. Why? The kids won’t touch the the food.

In other words, you can lead a kid to kale, but you can't make her eat it.

The Associated Press reports that federal officials don’t have the number of schools that no longer want to participate in the $11 billion National School Lunch Program, which repays schools for meals and makes enables them to buy lower-priced food.

The AP reports (via Breitbart):

Districts that rejected the program say the reimbursement was not enough to offset losses from students who began avoiding the lunch line and bringing food from home or, in some cases, going hungry.

"Some of the stuff we had to offer, they wouldn't eat," said Catlin, Ill., Superintendent Gary Lewis, whose district saw a 10 to 12 percent drop in lunch sales, translating to $30,000 lost under the program last year.

"So you sit there and watch the kids, and you know they're hungry at the end of the day, and that led to some behavior and some lack of attentiveness."

And more on that human behavior thingy that often befuddles the best-laid plans of central planners:

"A lot of kids were resorting to going over to the convenience store across the block from school and kids were buying junk food," the 17-year-old said. "It was kind of ironic that we're downsizing the amount of food to cut down on obesity but kids are going and getting junk food to fill that hunger."

Yep, quite ironic—also horribly wasteful.

Now, it would seem to me that children should know better than to go hungry because they haven’t been able to stomach Michelle’s Kale or whatever is served. But that would require a lot of discipline.

As it happens, this may be a blessing in disguise. Schools that opt out are then free to develop their own lunch programs.

By the way, this isn't the first report of discontent with the federal lunch program. My colleague Vicki Alger reported on it in June.

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