Chef-restaurateur Scott Pampuch visited chef Ann “renegade lunch lady” Cooper, who works at Casey Middle School in Boulder, Colorado, during a recent episode of the Ovation Network’sIn Search of Food” program.

Chef Pampuch’s challenge was to prepare a healthy lunch for 300 middle-school students on a budget of $1.15 per child. The problem is “the big governmental monster” that puts “the food system in a headlock,” Pampuch told the Denver Post.

As of 2010, more than 31 million schoolchildren (p. 1) were receiving free- and reduced lunches under the National School Lunch Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The $11 billion program (p. 3) was established in 1946 to help end hunger; but critics today say that it’s contributing to childhood obesity. Fraud is also widespread, and perverse incentives exist for schools to enroll as many children as possible—regardless of whether their parents want their children eating chicken nuggets and chocolate milk, instead of home-packed turkey sandwiches.

As IWF’s Julie Gunlock explained in March, USDA bureaucrats aren’t to blame: “government’s just too big.” The solution? Let parents and local school officials work together to decide what’s served at school. Chef Pampuch is a good model.

His child eats school lunches, “but that’s because, in the process of choosing a school, the [Pampuch] family inquired about the school district’s daily food budgets and picked a good one,” according to the Denver Post.

In the end, it’s parents, not government, who keep children healthy.