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Roberts: New School Lunches Out Of Reach For Many Districts

Elle Moxley

U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts dined on chicken teriyaki bites, brown rice and green beans at Mill Valley High School in Shawnee, Kan., Friday, where he discussed federal nutrition guidelines with students and staff.

"This menu I think would meet even Mrs. Obama's approval," Roberts quipped, taking a bite of pineapple.

Roberts, the new chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, has long criticized the new school lunch rules pushed by First Lady Michelle Obama. Roberts says the standards are impossible for some districts to meet.

"I think this school is probably a model school," Roberts says. "We have a lot of other schools in rural areas that have a tough time meeting the standards."

The new rules have been in effect since 2012 and are up for reauthorization later this year. School nutritionists mostly worried about meeting a daily caloric minimum. But under the new guidelines, they must make sure every food group is represented on a student's tray – all while staying below a maximum calorie count.

Schools also must serve more whole grains, like the pasta the senator passed on in favor of the chicken teriyaki bites. Problem is, those whole-grain versions of lunchroom staples tend to be more expensive.

"So many times when you have a federal program and you have federal mandates and federal regulations, they run into reality in the school district and may or may not work," says Roberts.

Mill Valley was Roberts' first stop on a tour to see how well Kansas cafeterias are meeting the standards. Roberts says he doubts all schools have been able to implement the menu changes as well as the DeSoto School District has.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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