School lunch rules be­ing rolled back

The Idaho Statesman (Sunday) - - NEWS - BY JU­LIA JACOBS New York Times

Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Sonny Per­due is not shy about shar­ing his taste for choco­late milk.

“I wouldn’t be as big as I am to­day with­out choco­late milk,” Per­due told re­porters in May 2017, while dis­cussing his plan to re­lax Obama-era school lunch rules. It was one of his first days on the job.

This past week, the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture an­nounced its fi­nal plans to lower nutri­tion stan­dards for grains, fla­vored milks and sodium in school cafe­te­rias that were part of the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010 and that Michelle Obama, the for­mer first lady, had ad­vo­cated.

The changes, all of which will go into ef­fect by July, ap­ply to school meals that qual­ify for at least some fed­eral re­im­burse­ment. They may seem rel­a­tively mi­nor on pa­per, but like many Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion moves to re­v­erse Oba­maera poli­cies, they come with some con­tro­versy.

First, the grains: The Obama-era rules re­quired that schools must serve en­tirely “whole grain­rich” foods, mean­ing that the prod­uct – whether it is pizza, pasta or ham­burger buns – must con­tain at least 50 per­cent whole grains.

Un­der the new rules, only half of the grain prod­ucts on the cafe­te­ria’s weekly menu must be whole grain-rich. The­o­ret­i­cally, that means schools could serve all whole grain-rich food three days a week and food made with re­fined grains the other two days.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion as­serts in the new rules that ad­min­is­tra­tors have strug­gled to find food prod­ucts that meet these stan­dards while also pleas­ing stu­dents. Schools have been able to re­quest ex­emp­tions from the rules if they demon­strate fi­nan­cial hard­ship, and the gov­ern­ment has said the most pop­u­lar re­quests have been for re­gional sta­ples like grits in the South and tor­tillas in the South­west.

But the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion as­serted that the ex­emp­tions process was not sus­tain­able and that some schools found it too bur­den­some.

Not all food ser­vice ad­min­is­tra­tors have prob­lems with the cur­rent rules. Ann Cooper, food ser­vice direc­tor for Boul­der Val­ley Schools, in Colorado, said the dis­trict served only whole grain­rich foods and never re­ceived com­plaints.

It is hard for many stu­dents to even tell when foods like tor­tillas are made with some whole grain flour, said Cooper, who is also pres­i­dent of the Chef Ann Foun­da­tion, which pro­vides grants to help schools serve health­ier food.

As for the milk, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is al­low­ing schools to serve low-fat fla­vored milks, rather than just the non­fat ver­sion. This change was al­ready in place for this school year, but Thurs­day’s an­nounce­ment made it per­ma­nent.

The ra­tio­nale, ac­cord­ing to the new rules, is to make sure chil­dren keep up their milk con­sump­tion.

“The kids told me that the fla­vored milk, which was lim­ited to non­fat, was not as tasty as they would like,” Per­due said at the May 2017 news con­fer­ence.

To back up the rule change, the Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment cited its own study con­clud­ing that milk con­sump­tion per per­son had de­creased from 2000 to 2016, though the data is not spe­cific to chil­dren.

LAURA SEITZ De­seret News (Utah) file

The Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment is scal­ing back Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion lunch stan­dards, in­clud­ing a re­quire­ment that only whole grains be served.

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