MUSCATINE, Iowa — The U.S. may be a free country — except when it comes to ketchup and hamburger buns.

And that’s got at least one school board member a bit bemused — but not amused — about the heavy-handed control over students’ diets.

Muscatine School Board member Nathan Mather expressed his disapproval of several of the new federal regulations during a presentation by Alisha Eggers, food, nutrition and custodial supervisor for the district and Cindy Rada, the district’s part-time dietician.

Eggers said the new regulations call for a 1.5 oz. bun, as opposed to the regular 2-ounce bun, became a bit of a challenge. Mather’s commented, “I just can’t believe we’re taking up your valuable time worrying about bun size.”

The new law, called the Healthy Hunger-free Kids Act, calls for a lower full meal calorie count than in previous years for all students.

The menu is mandatory in all public schools and the goal, said Eggers, is to combat obesity.

Condiment limits, especially on ketchup, have proved most frustrating for students, said Eggers. Because of its sodium content, ketchup is limited to one pack per student.

“Is there someone making sure a kid doesn’t grab a second ketchup packet?” asked Mather.

Eggers said yes and Mather replied, “Wow, I’m glad we got the federal government in on this.”

Mather asked if anyone inspects home-packed lunches.

“We’re not the food police,” said Eggers.

Wes Fowler, district director of human resources, said no additional staff was hired to oversee enforcement of the guidelines.

Mather said some students tell him the school lunches leave them feeling hungry and he asked if they could buy more than one lunch.

Eggers and Rada said students can buy more than one lunch, but Superintendent Bill Decker pointed out not all students can afford it.

“It’s almost like we’ve created a food achievement gap,” said Decker.

“So if you got the money you can eat,” added Mather, who later told Eggers — “My ill humor is in no way directed toward you, but toward meddlesome officials in faraway places.”

Board President Penny Jones thanked Eggers and Rada for the presentation.

“We’ve had a lot of questions and concerns expressed from our constituents about the changes in the lunch program,” said  Jones. “And I think this offers them a lot of information about what is required by law.”

Eggers said new regulations for school breakfasts go into effect beginning with the 2013-14 school year.

In other business

The Board unanimously approved:

  • Phase II of Muscatine High School construction project
  • New member roster for the School Improvement Advisory Committee