Lunchtime fa­vorites back in schools as re­straints re­laxed

The Tribune (SLO) - - News - BY CANDICE CHOI


Is white bread about to make a come­back on school lunch menus?

Af­ter com­plaints of gritty mac­a­roni and card­board pizza crusts, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion rolled back a rule that re­quired foods such as pasta and bread be made with whole grains. The cafe­te­ria di­rec­tors who lob­bied for the change say they just want greater flex­i­bil­ity to serve foods such as white bread – which are more pro­cessed and have less fiber – when whole grains don’t work.

In Ver­mont, the re­laxed rule means white rice will be served with beans again. In Ore­gon, mac­a­roni and cheese may re­turn. And in South Dakota, stu­dents may no­tice a change with their soup.

“The staff asked right away, ‘Oh my God, can we go back to the other saltines?’ ” said Gay An­der­son, a school lunch di­rec­tor and pres­i­dent of the School Nu­tri­tion As­so­ci­a­tion, which rep­re­sents cafe­te­ria op­er­a­tors and sup­pli­ers like Domino’s and Kel­logg.

The roll­back ad­dresses rules on grains, milk and salt cham­pi­oned by for­mer first lady Michelle Obama.

Since 2014, schools had been re­quired to serve only whole grain ver­sions of food as part of the na­tional school lunch pro­gram, a crit­i­cal source of free and re­duced-price meals for mil­lions of chil­dren. The idea is that whole grains would be more nour­ish­ing and help cul­ti­vate healthy habits amid alarm­ing obe­sity rates.

The Cen­ter for Science in the Pub­lic In­ter­est, which is among the par­ties su­ing over the roll­back, notes the stan­dards were based on the govern­ment’s own di­etary guide­lines and that most schools were suc­cess­fully meet­ing them.

But cafe­te­ria op­er­a­tors said the rule was un­re­al­is­tic, and that many stu­dents are used to the re­fined grains they eat at home. They said costs were higher, cook­ing was more dif­fi­cult and that stu­dents were throw­ing away more food. The School Nu­tri­tion As­so­ci­a­tion said it’s more im­por­tant that chil­dren who rely on the lunches eat some­thing, and that the rule ig­nored cul­tural pref­er­ences, such as for flour tor­tillas in the South­west or for white rice among Asian stu­dents.

To ease the tran­si­tion to whole grains, the U.S. De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture let schools ap­ply for tem­po­rary waivers to serve select dishes that didn’t meet the whole-grain rule. For the last school year, it said about 20 per­cent of dis­tricts asked per­mis­sion to serve re­fined grains that are en­riched to add back some nu­tri­ents.

Among the fre­quently waived foods were pasta, pizza, tor­tillas and bis­cuits, which one Ge­or­gia lunch of­fi­cial joked af­fects the “tests scores of red­necks,” ac­cord­ing to records ob­tained by The As­so­ci­ated Press from state agen­cies. Other waived foods in­cluded beignets, cin­na­mon rolls, corn dogs, sugar cook­ies and Pop Tarts.

One district re­quested a waiver for crois­sants be­cause it said stu­dents don’t like the whole-grain ver­sion.

“Plus they are 20 cents more per serv­ing,” the district said.

Then in De­cem­ber, Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Sonny Per­due said the USDA was go­ing back to the old stan­dard: At least half of grain foods must be rich in whole grains. The agency said that does away with the red tape of mak­ing schools get waivers, and gives schools more flex­i­bil­ity to of­fer whole­some meals that also re­duce food waste.

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