Friday, January 31, 2014

USDA Free Breakfast Program

My child's school started free breakfast for all the kids January 29th. Wonderful! Or is it? The Following is the email exchange that took place in response to my child's "breakfast" of Trix yogurt, Rice Krispie chewy granola bar, and orange juice.

Dear Superintendent Newcombe, Members of the Board of Education, and Principal Kraut,

Have you ever heard the saying “there is no such thing as a free lunch?” What about free breakfast? The USDA’s free breakfast program is not free. It comes with a cost much greater than our community can afford. Tooth decay, obesity, and diabetes are ultimately the price of this program, along with the burden of additional healthcare expense. These conditions (which are largely brought on by the overconsumption of sugar) are associated with coronary artery disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and many other degenerative and chronic diseases.

USDA granting these “foods” (in quotes because if it doesn’t rot it isn’t actually digestible) flies in the face of programs by the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control, and in fact, contradicts its own recommendations for total sugar consumption by children.  From the USDA’s “Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010”:

For most people, no more than about 5 to 15 percent of calories from solid fats and added sugars can be reasonably accommodated in the USDA Food Patterns, which are designed to meet nutrient needs within calorie limits.

Over 38% of calories in my child’s breakfast this morning were derived from added sugar in the forms of corn syrup, fructose, sugar, and molasses. This is 23 grams of added sugar, the equivalent of almost 6 teaspoons of sugar! Daily recommendation for a child’s sugar consumption by the American Heart Association is 3-4 teaspoons daily. This 6 teaspoon tally does not include the fructose and lactose naturally occurring in the juice, yogurt, and milk that are offered. That is an additional load of 20 grams of sugar for OJ and 12 grams for skim milk, another 3-5 teaspoons depending which beverage was chosen. Also not included is the non-fiber and non-sugar carbohydrates, all of which are converted to sugar by the body. Another 24 grams of sugar, or 6 more teaspoons if you prefer, bring our grand total to about 67 grams of sugar (1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons) for the children that chose orange juice. The fat and protein consumed were miniscule at 3 ½ and 3 grams respectively. This brings the breakdown of macronutrients to fat 10%, protein 4%, sugars 81% (I realize this does not add up to 100%, we can chalk that up to liberties taken with the nutrition labels). Two bags of peanut M & M’s contain an equivalent amount of sugar and have higher protein content.

We cannot allow the promise of “free food” entice us to participate in the sickening and degeneration of our own community. This program was designed to benefit the children of an impoverished community, those least likely to get dental care and most likely to have diabetes, cancer, and learning problems. Other conditions associated with over consumption of sugar include, but is not limited to: depression, early puberty, high blood pressure, chronic inflammation, gallstones, fatty liver disease, and sleep apnea.

Our children are being told that these are “healthy” food options, but it is unlikely the school would find a health professional that would label this meal as healthy. The children of this community deserve better than this. We will be submitting letters to state and federal law makers to ask that this program be reevaluated and changed to provide a better foundation of health for our children. Our children’s meals are not the place for politics. I would say that our children are being “force fed” highly subsidized, commodity agricultural products, however, children will willingly accept sugar-loaded goodies without question. We should not set them up for a lifetime of struggling with health concerns contributed to by excessive sugar consumption.

Bay City Public Schools have a unique opportunity to apply for grants through the Bay Area Community Foundation for projects that better our community. It would be a large endeavor, but I’m sure the school system has land available (as does the city) that could be turned into a food forest, greenhouse, or community garden. We could have chicken tractors on the lawns of our elementary schools (yes, this is being done in progressive cities in the United States). We need to promote a culture of health and food self-sufficiency in our city and in our schools. Putting such a program into motion would give us the ability to say “no thank you” to the USDA and the hidden costs of their program.



Matthew and Lyndsey Johnson

Parents of Levi, first grader at Kolb elementary

Good morning Mr. and Mrs. Johnson.  Thank you for sharing your perspective on the breakfast program at Kolb.   I think that there is no question that we could eat healthier as a society.  Schools are one place for that, home is another.  Our District like all others across the nation have implemented new standards put in place under the Obama Administration to provide more nutritious food choices in schools.  While I believe this is important, it has also had implications on school food programs because many students are opting out of eating healthier foods and portion sizes and or are throwing much more food out.  On a positive note, we are seeing more students eat healthier with salads, fruits, and vegetables gaining popularity.  We already receive grants in our District for students to get introduced to fruits and vegetables.  That will continue.   

I believe the lesson is that healthier eating is going to have to evolve in our society over time because you cannot force students or parents to accept healthier eating and there are many opinions on what that means.  

In the meantime, we do know that there are almost 12 million students participating nationwide in school breakfast programs.  Our universal breakfast program is a choice for each student and parent, not a requirement.  We are regulated in what we serve by the Federal Government.  You may or may not agree with those standards and that is your choice.  We also have to consider the fact that many students in our schools come from homes situations where for a variety of reasons they are not getting regular meals.  We have students who look forward to school because it is the only decent meals they have if they even have regular meals.  Lack of food and nutrition has a direct impact on student learning- we know that and we see that.   

Beyond the government guidelines, we are also working with registered dietitians and our menus are reviewed by the State.   

In closing, your ideas are interesting and something that we may explore at some point in time.  We are constantly looking for new recipes or ideas that introduce students to different healthy eating options.   I again thank you for taking the time to share your ideas. 


Doug Newcombe
Dear Superintendent Newcombe,
Thank you for your consideration regarding our opinions. Please know that we understand that our fight is with the USDA and the nutritional monopoly of Registered Dieticians sponsored by corporate food manufacturers. Our criticism is meant to be purely constructive, and we would gladly volunteer our time and expertise to plan and implement programs to educate and feed impoverished families at the local level. We would love to have our school system take a stand with us against policy that is disguised as help for poor families when it is actually designed to support our current, highly subsidized agricultural paradigm.
Our stance is that only a diet based on whole foods, with very little processed food in packages and little to no sugar, is the only diet with health protective attributes. My children also have a low tolerance to soy, dairy, and wheat. As such, I spend a lot of time cooking and sourcing food and our children are typically not allowed food outside the home. Our kids will readily accept any goody in a package, especially if their over-protective parents are not watching. Our oldest son, Luke Poindexter, is a senior at Central with a 3.5 GPA. He has been denied the pleasure of hot lunch since the middle of first grade due to inattentiveness and obesity. Luke is also a high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder member. His health and school struggles largely turned around when I started denying any and all processed food in our home while he was attending Handy. He is now nearly 6 feet tall, weighs 170 pounds, and has been accepted to 4 colleges and universities for the fall. When presented with chicken nuggets, pizza, or corndogs, he will make every attempt to make up for lost time. He is the reigning two-time champion of the BCC band’s annual St. Patrick’s Day pancake eating contest.
While we have our own struggles with nutrition for our family, we can’t help but be concerned with the nutrition of other local families. We absolutely understand the need to feed these children at school, but how unfair to advertise a bolus of sugar as a nutritious free meal! Our family knows all too well the harm that can be caused by low-quality, processed food, and we cannot agree that “something is better than nothing.” Providing high-sugar foods to children with limited parental involvement or support we feel is compounding an already tough situation. By giving at-risk children a sugar laden breakfast, the schools are potentially increasing their risk of problem behavior, including aggression and inattentiveness, lowering their achievement and continuing to set them on a path of disadvantage. High-sugar bodies are literally a breeding ground for pathogenic bacteria, fungus, and viruses. We would like the school to be setting a healthy example for these children whom truly need guidance.
We recognize that the latest Food and Nutrition Service guidelines for school meals are an improvement on the previous version, but they leave a lot to be desired .The emphasis on reduced fat, sodium, and calories with disregard for food quality will not make any improvement in our health as a nation at large. It is, in fact, just more of the same advice that has been failing us since the mid-1980s. Registered Dieticians put much less emphasis on food quality and are primarily interested in calories consumed. We have already been involved with the fight against the dietary monopoly that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics holds, and that fight will continue. While it is true the My Plate guidelines are an improvement on the Food Guide Pyramid, the FNS school meals guidelines don’t follow it.
We would like to make sure you are aware of another USDA program called Farm to School. From :
Beginning January 2014 through June 2014, the USDA Farm to School Program will host two webinars each month to showcase the variety of ways school districts can purchase local foods.
The Farm to School program also provides grants, along with other resources. Our rich agricultural tradition in the areas surrounding our community puts us at a prime advantage when it comes to locally sourcing whole foods. Food should come from farms, not factories. Local farmers would be more than happy to use our schools’ food waste to feed hogs and chickens. I am sure an exchange of goods between our local farmers and the school system would be financially beneficial and not a burden. Not using our local resources is truly a waste. For further information on this program, we encourage you to contact the Department of Education’s Marla Moss at or 5173734337, Diane Golzynski at or 5173733383, or Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems Colleen Matts at or 5174320310.
In addition, there is an organization by the name of Chiwara Permaculture based in the Ann Arbor area ( that we think would be a fabulous resource and partner to help us promote a culture of learning and healthy eating in our community.
Thank you again for your thoughtful response to our concerns. Food security at the local level, family nutrition, public policy, as well as industrial agricultural practices are topics that we are passionate about. We will continue our activism at the state and federal level, what we hope for is change at the local level.
Matthew and Lyndsey Johnson