When former first lady Michelle Obama’s strict limitations on school lunches went into effect, students across the country dumped the unappetizing offerings in the garbage, a debacle that cost taxpayers billions in wasted food and lunchroom sales.
Students, parents, administrators and lunch staff pleaded with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to roll back the restrictions – specific limits on everything from total calories to fat, sugar, sodium, and whole grain content – and the government created various waivers to allow schools to serve students food they will actually eat.
Now, the Trump administration is scrapping the unnecessary bureaucracy altogether by making many of the changes permanent, effectively erasing rules that some believe unfairly targeted minorities and ignored cultural diversity.
Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association representing local cafeteria workers, explained the situation to the Associated Press.
Pratt-Heavner “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.
“Finding whole-grain biscuits and grits that students like are a challenge in the U.S. South, she said, while tortillas are a challenge in the Southwest,” the AP reports.
The SNA reports nearly 2 million fewer kids are eating school lunch each day since Obama-inspired rules took effect.
The recent changes mean schools no longer need a special waiver from the government for only whole grain breads, and cafeterias can now serve low-fat chocolate milk without Uncle Sam’s permission. Students could only get fat-free flavored milk under previous rules.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said Friday the changes, set to be published in a rule later this month, will also give schools more time to meet sodium aggressive sodium guidelines imposed by Obama, NPR reports.
The move is based on the obvious reality that healthy lunches don’t benefit kids if they won’t eat them.
“If kids are not eating what is being served, they are not benefiting, and food is being wasted,” Perdue said.
He seems to understand that parents are far more in tune with their children’s dietary needs than bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.
“We will listen to schools, and make common-sense changes as needed, to ensure they can meet the needs of their students based on their real-world experience in local communities,” Perdue said.
SNA President Gay Anderson applauded Perdue for seeing the big picture.
“School nutrition professionals have made tremendous progress in improving student diets, but the pace and degree of menu changes under updated nutrition standards were more than some students would accept,” Anderson said.
“We appreciate Secretary Perdue for finding solutions to address the concerns of schools and students,” he said. “This rule will entice more students to eat healthy school meals, which meet calorie limits and offer fruits, vegetables and milk.”
“Nutrition advocates,” meanwhile, are attacking President Trump for easing the Obama-era regulations, alleging a delay in sodium standards “will put kids’ health in jeopardy.”
“Parents will be disappointed when they learn that the meals served to their kids in school are under attack from President Trump’s de-regulatory agenda,” Margo Wootan, with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in a prepared statement. “This will mean that school lunches will fail to be consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, as is required by law.”
A statement from the American Heart Association said “when it comes to our children’s health, there should be no ‘flexibility.’
“Failing to meet the science-based sodium standards for school meals originally adopted by USDA will put kids’ health in jeopardy,” the statement read.
NPR reports the daily sodium limit recommended by federal dietary guidelines is 2,300 mg, or just over 1,000 mg less than the average daily consumption of kids in the U.S.