Barack isn’t the only Obama whose policies are being kicked to the curb under the Trump administration. In a move to roll back former first lady Michelle Obama’s healthy lunch initiative, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will provide greater flexibility in nutrition requirements for school meal programs in an effort to make food choices not only healthy for students, but more appealing.
The new rule, unveiled Monday, eliminates some of the nutritional standards previously set in place and saves schools from having to cut the salt in students’ meals or work in whole grains and non-fat milk. Under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act signed into law by President Obama in 2010, schools were required to offer only fat-free or low-fat milk, limit calories based on students’ ages and cut down on saturated fat, trans fats and sodium, among other things.
“If kids aren’t eating the food and it’s ending up in the trash, they aren’t getting any nutrition – thus undermining the intent of the program,” said Perdue.
The announcement came as a result of years of feedback from students, schools and food service experts about the challenges they face in meeting the final regulations for school meals, Perdue added, and the proclamation he signed Monday began the process of restoring local control of guidelines for nutrition.
Patricia Montague, CEO of the School Nutrition Association, applauded the proclamation.
“We have been wanting flexibility so that schools can serve meals that are both nutritious and palatable,” she said. “We don’t want kids wasting their meals by throwing them away. Some of our schools are actually using that food waste as compost. That shouldn’t be happening.”
According to USDA figures, school food requirements cost school districts and states an additional $1.22 billion in Fiscal Year 2015. Most states have reported seeing a decrease in student participation in school lunches, and about one million students choose not to have a school lunch each day nationwide. While simultaneously encountering increased costs, schools are seeing reduced revenue due to the decline.
The specific flexibilities include decreased regulations on whole grains, sodium and milk. The USDA will now allow state-granted exemptions to schools experiencing hardship in serving 100 percent of grain products as whole-grain rich for the 2017-2018 school year, and schools will no longer be required to meet Sodium Target 2. Instead, Sodium Target 1 will be considered compliant. Schools will also soon be able to serve one percent flavored milk.
At lunch in Turlock Unified School District, chocolate milk has always been available, said Child Nutrition Manager Cathy Ford. The new rules laid out by Perdue won’t affect TUSD much, she added, since they currently serve only whole grain products that students seem to enjoy and are far below the Sodium Target 1 level.
“I’m glad that they’re not going to make us go up to the next level, because that would be stringent,” said Ford.
Ford said she doesn’t anticipate any changes being made to TUSD’s breakfast and lunch menus.
“The kids have grown to know it and they haven’t complained,” said Ford. “If there’s something that we find that isn’t whole grain and we want to try, now we can, but as of now we aren’t changing anything.”