First Lady Michelle Obama championed improved nutrition standards for school meal programs during her time in the White House. Nutrition advocates said the rules were necessary to ensure healthier options for children, which would hopefully curb growing rates of childhood obesity.
Pasadena mother Kimberly Everhart appreciates the healthier options for her daughter Makayla, a fifth-grader at Jacobsville Elementary School, saying, “Schools need to supply healthy options. I know at my daughter’s school, as you go through the line you can choose what you want to eat. So less is thrown away. I like that you can get a yogurt and fruit option or a salad with regular lunches.”
However, not everyone is happy. Industry groups representing school nutrition professionals voiced concerns that the regulations were costly to follow and that many students just were not eating the healthier meals.
On May 1, 2017, U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue issued a Proclamation announcing several menu planning flexibilities to underscore USDA’s commitment to assisting schools in serving healthy, more appealing meals to students. Specifically, Perdue instructed the Food and Nutrition Service to begin the process of amending the regulations with respect to sodium, whole grains and flavored milk.
On November 29, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published revised school meal rules, easing the standards and providing more flexibility in menu planning. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue shared in a statement, “Based on the feedback we’ve gotten from students, schools, and food service professionals in local schools across America, it’s clear that many still face challenges incorporating some of the meal pattern requirements. Schools want to offer food that students actually want to eat. It doesn’t do any good to serve nutritious meals if they wind up in the trash can. These flexibilities give schools the local control they need to provide nutritious meals that school children find appetizing.”
The interim final rule includes these changes:
Schools can now serve 1 percent flavored milk, such as chocolate and strawberry. Under the previous rule, flavored milk had to be non-fat.
Individual states can grant exemptions from whole-grain rich food requirements for schools that struggle to find compliant products, like pastas.
Schools can continue to serve meals that fall under current sodium restrictions throughout the 2018-19 school year. Those restrictions were previously scheduled to be lowered, further limiting the amount of salt that could be used in school meals.
The changes will be in effect for the 2018-2019 school year. Should parents or educators wish to voice their concerns or provide input, the USDA will accept public comments on these changes before they become permanent via www.regulations.gov.