School cafeteria workers, already frustrated that kids don't like menus ordered by Michelle Obama and the Agriculture Department, slapped as “offensive” the first lady's latest criticism that some school districts have given up and are just lazily serving junk food.

“It is offensive to America’s frontline cafeteria professionals to say that those who struggle with the national decline in school lunch participation have simply said, 'Well, the kids like junk food, so let’s just give 'em junk food,' ” said Patti Montague, chief executive of the School Nutrition Association, in a letter to the White House.

“Our members are not offering their students junk food,” she added in the letter, the latest by the group to get the first lady’s attention to the huge drop in school lunch participation due to the awful taste and higher costs of the foods now pushed by Obama.

At a White House event earlier this week, the first lady praised school districts that are offering the healthy menus -- and took a shot at those who aren't.

“In a number of school districts, participation in the lunch program has actually risen. And there’s a simple reason for that: It’s because those districts actually put some effort into marketing the new meals to the kids. They didn’t just sit back and say, well, the kids like junk food so let’s just give them junk food,” she said.

That was too much for Montague and her 55,000-member association. “I write in disappointment regarding your July 22nd comments disparaging school nutrition professionals who work hard every day, despite limited resources and overwhelming regulatory challenges, to serve healthy, appealing school meals that help students succeed in the classroom," she wrote.

Her group has been trying to get a meeting with the first lady to win changes to new school lunch nutrition rules that have led to a drop in student participation in 49 states, according to the Agriculture Department.

“USDA’s data points to a national problem under the new standards, and it is not, as you imply, simply because schools have failed to ‘put some effort into marketing the new meals to the kids,’ ” said Montague.

At a Senate hearing this week, the president of the School Nutrition Association detailed the problems school cafeterias are facing under the new standards and warned that as kids turn their noses up and refuse to buy lunches, funds to pay for expensive new menus are drying up.

“Despite our best efforts to make meals more appealing, schools nationwide have also struggled with student acceptance of new menu options. As of July 1, all grains offered with school meals must be whole grain rich, but many schools have been challenged to find whole grain rich tortillas, biscuits, crackers and other specialty items that appeal to students,” said Julia Bauscher.

“We’ve heard students complain that their pastas and breads are burnt or tough or taste strange, and indeed, these whole grain rich foods do have a different texture, appearance and flavor than what students might find at home or in their favorite restaurants,” she told the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at