Complaining about public school lunches is a time-honored tradition, but now it has its own hashtag.
Mrs. Obama was a supporter of the USDA 2012 school lunch standards which asked schools to offer fruit and vegetables each school day, more whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk. Limiting calories and saturated fat were two other priorities of the nutrition standards, which began to be phased in over the 2012-13 academic year.
But students are responding on Twitter to what they perceive as a shift to healthy-but-unappetizing school meals.
One of the more popular tweets came from Hunter Whitney, 17, of Wisconsin — his photo of his school’s “Spanish rice,” which he dubbed “mystery mush,” has been retweeted more than 375 times.
“I know it's not my only food option,” he followed up on Twitter Friday night. “I am very well able to pack my own lunch and I do on occasion. It's that they consider this healthy.”
One Michigan student told the Associated Press that she blames federal standards, not her school. “I know that they’re just following the rules,” she said.
According to a USDA statement, “many of the photos posted do not fully reflect the full range of choices students are provided.”
Some Twitter users responded to the sarcastic thanks-givers by calling them ungrateful. They suggested that the real blame lies with the school chefs and, in turn, they shared some of the more appetizing-looking school lunches.
That's exactly what Rebecca Polson is doing, too.
Rebecca Polson is the head chef for Metro Nashville Public Schools, which says it serves 8.4 million lunches each school year. She has used #ThanksMichelleObama to highlight bright red tomatoes and crisp lettuce filling a salad bar, breakfast in the classroom, and bruschetta chicken.
On average, Ms. Polson wrote on Twitter, her school serves 20,000 more meals a day than last year.
The standards supported by Mrs. Obama have hit a few roadblocks since 2012. Last spring, the USDA said that schools demonstrating “significant challenges” in transitioning to whole-grain pasta could delay the swap for two years. The USDA also said it would phase in the standards, rather than require immediate compliance.
But Time reported that the USDA changes are already making positive changes in student diets. Obesity rates fell in high school students who attend schools that complied with federal standards. More fruits and vegetables, as well as low-fat milk, brought lower obesity rates, according to a 2014 study published in JAMA Pediatrics.
It's unlikely that Michelle Obama will be deterred by the #ThanksMichelleObama campaign. In fact, she's already proven her social media clout. It's more likely that she'll counter by ratcheting up her campaign, producing something like the dancing with turnip video that proved so popular last month.