Bloomberg News

Students learn about good nutrition in school. They just don’t get a lot of it. Now the House of Representatives is threatening to sabotage an effort to address that failure.

New federal standards for school lunches set a calorie cap for meals, encourage kids to eat whole grains and require them to put a fruit or vegetable on their plate. (They don’t have to eat it.)

This is too much for some House Republicans. “Kids are saying they don’t want this,” Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said last week. “You are trying to force them to eat things they don’t want.”

Unlike some other congressional debates, this is not about the use of force. The issue is how best to fight obesity, which has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the U.S. in the last 30 years.

The obesity problem cannot be addressed without changing how children eat in school, where they consume half their calories. In the age-old battle between grown-ups and kids about eating better, schools and parents need to work together.

House members say the school lunch program is already a failure because some students stopped buying lunches and others are throwing away the fruits and vegetables uneaten. They say some schools and food providers need more time to adjust to the new rules.

Yet evidence suggests the tales of healthy-food rejection and waste are exaggerated. In a recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, food waste in four schools was no greater after the reforms than before, and vegetable consumption increased by 16.2 percent.

Ninety percent of schools are now meeting the standards, and the Department of Agriculture says it is working to help the rest catch up. And as any parent can attest, all children resist new foods. In fact, nutritionists recommend the very strategy the USDA is using: Keep putting that broccoli on the plate, and don’t worry if the kids eat it. Eventually enough of them will.