School lunches need overhaul

Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a revamping of school meals that has been a long time coming -- a decade and a half, to be exact.

The USDA is planning to improve the nutritional value of the meals that children get at schools. Trans fats, which are health wreckers, will be jettisoned from school meals, which will get a maximum limit on calories. All the milk served will be low-fat or fat-free, and salt will be reduced over time.

The improvements are long overdue in a nation where school lunches are a significant portion of many students' daily food consumption, and many of those students dealing with problems associated with obesity. In Georgia, which unfortunately, according to the CDC, is one of the leaders in the area of obesity with more than 65 percent of adults and 40 percent of children, the University of Georgia announced last week that it is launching an initiative to develop programs to help communities, schools, medical facilities and businesses prevent and reduce obesity.

Attacking the issue while a child is young and still forming habits is a good approach. It makes sense that children who develop good eating habits would be more likely to eat better as adults. People like fats and sugar for good reason -- they taste good. Vegetables have more complex flavors that have to be cultivated.

The problem is in this day of a fast-food restaurant seemingly on every corner, there is a tremendous temptation to eat high-calorie low-nutrition food because of convenience, if nothing else.

That should extend to school cafeterias.

Amazingly, Congress last year force-fed USDA a couple of laws that will make the job harder, but not impossible. USDA wanted to limit potatoes -- the No. 1 "vegetable" consumed by Americans kids as French fries -- to two servings a week. Congress said no.

USDA also wanted to keep school districts from counting tomato paste used on pizzas served at school as a vegetable. Congress actually passed a bill last November requiring USDA to do just that -- count tomato paste atop a pizza as a serving of vegetable.

Both were ill-conceived acts of Congress that were certainly not passed for the benefit of America's school children, but for potato producers and food service businesses pushing pizza. And they're a relatively small example of why America has every right to have no confidence in the current batch of lawmakers who are cooking up this type of political hash on Capitol Hill.

While we're no fan of the way USDA ignores its own rules on signing up children for free and reduced-cost lunches, we do think everything that can be done should be to help our kids live healthier, more productive lives.

The new nutrition rules appear to be a solid move in that direction.

-- The Albany Herald Editorial Board