A Missouri congresswoman has stopped by a Columbia elementary school to eat, and discuss federally regulated school lunches.

U.S Representative Vicky Hartzler at Jefferson Middle School

U.S Representative Vicky Hartzler at Jefferson Middle School

On Thursday, U.S. Representative Vicky Hartzler visited with Jefferson Middle School students, Principal Greg Caine, and Columbia Public Schools Nutrition Services Director Laina Fullum.  Hartzler has co-sponsored a bill that would reduce federal mandates on school lunches.

“This is a problem not only statewide, but nationwide,” said Hartzler.  “Kids are not eating the food, there’s a lot of waste, and it’s costing school districts a lot of money, and that’s not good.”

First lady Michelle Obama has made the nutrition of school lunch part of her mission while her husband has been in office, but Hartzler thinks some of the regulations Obama has endorsed need to be adjusted.  Hartzler said the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 had good intentions, but the program is not working.

“I think a one-size-fits-all solution being mandated from Washington doesn’t work in many areas, and I think it’s playing very true here that it’s not working in these new food guidelines for our local schools,” said Hartzler.  “I want to enable our local school districts to have more flexibility in how they serve nutritious foods and I’m hopeful that will increase the amount of healthy foods kids will eat ultimately.”

Hartzler said many of the students brought their own lunch, so she asked them why.

“One of the reasons was they said it was the way that the food looked, they didn’t think it was very appetizing, others had just been in a habit of doing that for a while,” said Hartzler. “The principal brought up a good point in that he thinks that we should make sure that the kids want to eat the lunch program and they want to eat healthy foods and that should be our goal.”

Provisions in the bill would maintain sodium requirements and restore whole grain requirements to 50 percent.

“The regulation to say that basically no salt in food makes it unpalatable,” said Hartzler.  “Requiring 100 percent of the foods to be whole grain doesn’t really work when you’re talking about macaroni and cheese that looks brown.”

Hartzler is also concerned about the mandated calorie cap schools must abide by and wants to amend the legislation to allow for more flexibility.  Hartzler said the 800 calorie limit is not enough for many junior high and high school students growing fast or involved in sports.