Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has announced that restrictions on the makeup of school lunches imposed by former First Lady Michelle Obama have been lifted. Permissible salt levels have been raised. Schools have the option of not serving whole grain meals. Students will be able to drink one percent milk instead of the nonfat variety. The announcement seeks to repair a policy that had proven to be a disaster in thousands of school cafeterias across the country.

The Obama era policy was a well-meaning attempt to get students to eat healthier food and to fight childhood obesity.

The practical result was a sharp increase in food waste, a decline in the participation in the School Lunch program, and a revolt among students who resorted to heading off campus to nearby fast food eateries and a black market in salt and other banned ingredients in many schools.

The problem was that while the mandated school lunches may or may not have been nutritious, they tended to be practically inedible. The calorie content was also a one size fit all variety that left many children hungry. Students would post pictures of their unappetizing lunches with the caption: “Thanks, Michelle Obama.” School districts lost a tremendous amount of money as the costs of school lunches that no one wanted to eat soared.

Eventually school districts will be given the flexibility to design their own school lunch menus without federal mandates. The idea is to try to find a balance between nutrition and taste. As most parents come to realize, the most nutritious meal on the planet is useless if the children refuse to eat it.

One of the problems with the Michelle Obama policy is that it was centered on restrictions on ingredients and not on menus.

Whoever mandated the makeup of the school lunches did not do the one thing that any cook has to do when creating a meal, taste test it. Had they done so, the school lunch public policy disaster of the Obama years might have been avoided.

If the federal government wanted to design nutritional school lunches that kids would actually eat, it might have appointed a panel of chefs with some experience in cooking for children.

One could imagine a group of Food Network and Cooking Channel stars creating menus that could then be used as guidelines (not mandates) that school districts could then follow. The exercise could even be the subject of a TV special with the chefs creating meals and panels of kids eating and judging them. Call it “The Great School Lunch Contest.”