The first lady has put considerable effort into supporting wide-sweeping changes to school lunch programs. Calories have been restricted under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

Why one-size-fits-all may not work

While the policy is intended to eradicate hunger or malnutrition and encourage healthy eating, some students are still hungry. Can you really mandate meals that will be appropriate for both an 80-pound girl and an athletic, 130-pound boy?

As long as there have been cafeterias in schools, students have been complaining about the food. What used to consist of meat-and-potatoes fare slopped onto a plate has morphed over the years into prepackaged lunch items that more closely resemble fast food. Complaints now center on the nutritional value of the meals, and whether or not students who eat on campus are eating healthy.

Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act

Supported by the first lady as part of her Let’s Move! Campaign, the act was signed into law by President Obama back in December 2010. According to the White House press release, “The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 authorizes funding for federal school meal and child nutrition programs and increases access to healthy food for low-income children.” The bill provided for $4.5 billion in new funding for these programs over a 10 year period, with the dual goals of fighting childhood hunger and taking aim at the epidemic of obesity in children.

With almost 32 million students relying on lunches through the school lunch program, these meals need to not just taste appealing but be nutritionally sound. Many low-income students also eat breakfast that is provided for them at school, which means that most of their daily nutritional needs come from school-provided food. When President Obama signed this act, the hope was to provide increased access to healthier options for school children over the next 10 years.

This school actually banned home packed lunches >>

Calories: Guidelines or restrictions?

Under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 there are specific guidelines for how many calories are allowed in each complete lunch. The USDA relied on recommendations made by a panel of experts brought together by the Institute of Medicine. Calorie amounts allowable per lunch were calculated based on the age of the child being served — using an average height and weight — and portion sizes were designed to maintain a healthy weight. The goal was to foster the same healthy changes in eating habits many parents are implementing at home.

Elementary school students in grades kindergarten through fifth are allowed 650 calories per meal. Moving into middle school, lunches served to children in sixth through eighth grades have a slightly increased calorie maximum at 700. By the time they are teenagers in high school, students are allowed 850 calories per meal — about one-third of the total calories they require per day. According to WebMD, active teens between the ages of 14 and 18 years require approximately 2,400 calories per day.

Many students and parents are complaining that the calorie maximums are too one-size-fits-all, and don’t provide enough food for larger, athletic teens who burn more calories. The USDA received an unprecedented 132,000 public comments regarding these proposed standards, and did make modifications where they deemed appropriate.

Students are hungry

"Under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 there are specific guidelines for how many calories are allowed in each complete lunch."

Through YouTube videos and interviews, students are complaining that the calorie restrictions are leaving them hungry and unable to concentrate on schoolwork. The USDA has released a fact sheet on calories in school meals, to help school authorities answer public concerns. The fact sheet specifically mentions additional options for the very active students. “In addition to making available second helpings of fruits and vegetables (or even milk) at lunch, schools can also structure afterschool snack and supper programs to provide additional foods for those who need them. Many schools have previously found success with parent or school-run booster clubs and may opt to continue this practice.”

Bottom line

Students who eat school lunches can always bring snacks or extra items from home to supplement their calorie intake if they find themselves still hungry in the afternoon. It is difficult to make a one-size-fits-all calorie maximum for meals that works for everyone. Help your child find a healthier way to eat without making him starve by encouraging healthy eating at home as well.

More on healthy kids

How eating organic improves your child's health
How is sugar hurting your kids?
10 Healthiest foods your kids need to be eating


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Comments on "Michelle Obama's school lunch program makes kids hungry"

Amy February 27, 2014 | 8:27 PM

I'm sick of Mrs. Obama equating health with calories. Nuts, avocados, and even starchy fruit and veggies can be very calorie dense but the most nutritious food you can eat. On the other hand a 30 calorie rice cake, white bread or Popsicle is low calorie but offers ZERO nutritional value. It's not about calories, it's about vitamins, minerals and WHOLE unprocessed foods. We need to offer kids more fresh fruit and veggies and plant based proteins like beans and nuts and may they eat until they are FULL.

Crystal Vaughan September 28, 2013 | 7:41 AM

I'm beyond angry that my kindergartener son is still hungry after eating everything on his plate and that the solution for this seems unattainable. He is as tall as a third grader, very physically active and weighs under 50 lbs. For lunch he gets half a sandwich and skim milk. I have offered to pay for a second lunch even though he qualifies for free lunch, but "seconds" are not allowed except on fruits and vegetables which my son DOES like and eat but they don't have the protein, good fats, and calories to sustain him all day. The school lunch costs less than what I would pay if he brought his lunch from home. He is not allowed to bring lunch from home to supplement the school lunch. We have to choose one or the other. He is not allowed a snack until the end of the day. We only get $175 a month in food stamps and I'm already skipping meals so my son can eat. We NEVER eat junk food and I cook everything myself. We are not the stereotype of the low income fat person. There are low income Americans like us who REALLY are hungry and don't need the Obama diet. I'm not a parent who doesnt want to work or pay my way. Im afraid of our food stamps being cut too. I'm trying to figure out how to make enough food for him to bring that I can afford,that won't spoil, need to be heated, and that I will have to make completely from scratch. We live in the country and live very far from the grocery store. A jar of peanutbutter is now over $6.00. A bag of nuts is about $10.00... We walk far to the school bus stop in cold rainy weather. A hot lunch with enough calories would be nice. Thanks to the one-size-fits-all dictatorship, we are forced to go hungry or eat beans and rice.

Joey Penix April 22, 2013 | 10:30 AM

What do you expect kids are goimg to be hungry if you take away all the good foods they like and give what they dont like. To be honest it's not your body all you can do is tell them not to but they're going to do it anyways. Ya I drink pop and eat unhealthy but I daon't drinkk pop all the time.

debbie December 11, 2012 | 3:06 PM

After reading this article I am fed up.Mrs. obama ia so concerned about school lunches is getting out of hand.There are twice as many people on food stamps than there was 4 years ago.These are the people she is targeting saying their not getting enough to eat let alone not eating healthy enough.I got an idea,TAKE POP AND CANDY OF THE FOOD STAMP PROGRAM!!! I see people everyday buy excessive amounts of these items and its totally unacceptable! These are the people that are overweight and unhealthy.This program is abused and the products they can buy is gotten way out of hand.Its suppose to be a program to help feed people in need,not people to enjoy!wWe could be saving millions of dollars if the program was used what it was suppose to be.The people would be healthier and save from our government paying their medical bills for obiesty, diabetes, rotten teeth,ect.this program should also be monitered on how long their on it.!!!!!

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