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