USDA readies rule to ease restrictions on school lunch programs

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is readying a rule that would give school districts more time to change their school lunch nutrition standards to meet goals created under the Obama administration.

The program established under the direction of Michelle Obama forced school districts to adopt low-salt, low-sugar menus, penalizing them if they couldn't meet the standards.

The Packer:

School meals are on the early agenda for new Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, and it's likely some of the nutrition standards put into place during the Obama administration will be a choice and not a mandate.

Whether servings of fresh fruits and vegetables will be affected is unknown.

On May 1, Perdue and Sen. Pat Roberts plan to visit a grade school in Leesburg, Va., to announce an interim USDA rule on providing flexibility in meeting nutrition standards for school meals. In an April 28 notice to media on the visit, the USDA did not reveal specifics on the rule, which is the first step in changing the nutrition standards.

On April 6, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., wrote a letter to USDA Acting Deputy Secretary Michael Young, stating that USDA school nutrition standards issued in 2012 and 2016 have limited the flexibility of school foodservice providers. That resulted in declining participation in the program, increased food waste in school cafeterias and created confusion about what foods can be used in fund raisers and extracurricular activities, according to the letter.

In July 2012, the USDA increased requirements for fruits and vegetables served in school lunches from one-half to three-fourths of a cup (combined) per day to the new requirement of three-fourths to one cup of vegetables plus one-half to one cup of fruit per day.

Even though the USDA allows for schools to apply for a waiver from some aspects of the standards, Roberts urged the USDA in his April 6 letter to "act administratively and provide immediate relief from certain egregious aspects of the standards, particularly in regards to the approaching sodium limits and the dairy and whole grain requirements."

Delaying the adoption of these standards is the first step toward creating intelligent policy on school lunches.  What made Michelle Obama's program so ridiculous is that it put school districts in a straitjacket, forcing them to adopt menus that were unpalatable and not accepted by kids.  This resulted in lower participation rates and a massive increase in food that was thrown away.

There are other, less draconian ways to make school lunches more nutritious while enticing kids to eat more fruit and vegetables.  It starts with allowing schools a lot more flexibility in determining what kids should be eating.  They know what their kids eat and what they won't eat.  Giving that power back to school districts would be a first step toward fixing what Michelle Obama and her nutrition Nazis broke.

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