School lunch rules OK re­fined grains, low-fat choco­late milk

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - NEWS - By Candice Choi

NEW YORK >> The na­tional school lunch pro­gram is mak­ing room on menus again for noo­dles, bis­cuits, tor­tillas and other foods made mostly of re­fined grains.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is scal­ing back con­tested school lunch stan­dards im­ple­mented un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in­clud­ing one that re­quired only whole grains be served. The U.S. De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture said Thurs­day only half the grains served will need to be whole grains, a change it said will do away with the cur­rent bu­reau­cracy of re­quir­ing schools to ob­tain spe­cial waivers to serve select items made with re­fined grains.

Low-fat choco­late milk will also be al­lowed again and a goal for lim­it­ing sodium will be scrapped. Pre­vi­ously, only fat-free milk could be fla­vored, although that rule had also been tem­po­rar­ily waived.

The School Nutri­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, which rep­re­sents lo­cal cafe­te­ria op­er­a­tors and com­pa­nies like Domino’s Pizza, Kel­logg and Pep­siCo, had called for the scale back of the whole grain-only re­quire­ment, say­ing it was too dif­fi­cult for some dis­tricts to meet.

Diane Pratt-Heavner, a spokes­woman for the as­so­ci­a­tion, said whole-grain bread and buns gen­er­ally aren’t a prob­lem. But she said stu­dents com­plained about other items, in many cases be­cause of cul­tural or re­gional pref­er­ences.

Whole-grain bis­cuits and grits are also a chal­lenge in the U.S. South, she said, while tor­tillas are a chal­lenge in the South­west.

Not ev­ery­one wel­comed the re­laxed rules.

The Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion en­cour­aged schools to “stay the course” and com­mit to meet­ing the stricter stan­dards that started go­ing into ef­fect in 2012. The Cen­ter for Sci­ence in the Pub­lic In­ter­est also said the de­ci­sion to roll back the whole-grain re­quire­ment makes no sense be­cause most schools were al­ready in com­pli­ance.

Those still strug­gling to do so would have even­tu­ally been able to com­ply as well, said Colin Schwartz, the cen­ter’s deputy di­rec­tor of leg­isla­tive af­fairs.

For the cur­rent school year, the USDA said 20 per­cent of school food au­thor­i­ties were ap­ply­ing for ex­emp­tions to the whole­grain rule. Pasta, tor­tillas, bis­cuits and grits were the most com­monly re­quested items for ex­emp­tion, it said.

The USDA school lunch pro­gram pro­vides low-cost or free lunches in pub­lic schools and other in­sti­tu­tions. Last year, it served an es­ti­mated 30 mil­lion chil­dren.

The As­so­ci­ated Press Health and Sci­ence De­part­ment re­ceives sup­port from the Howard Hughes Med­i­cal In­sti­tute’s De­part­ment of Sci­ence Ed­u­ca­tion. The AP is solely re­spon­si­ble for all con­tent.

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