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Serving: United States
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USDA increases flexibility in school lunch standards

The changes will impact nearly 99,000 schools and institutions that feed 30 million children annually.

USDA is increasing flexibility in implementing school nutrition standards for milk, whole grains and sodium.

“USDA is committed to serving meals to kids that are both nutritious and satisfying,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “These common-sense flexibilities provide excellent customer service to our local school nutrition professionals, while giving children the world-class food service they deserve.”

The rule is to be published Dec. 12 in the Federal Register. The changes will impact nearly 99,000 schools and institutions that feed 30 million children annually through USDA’s school meal programs. This rule is part of USDA’s Regulatory Reform Agenda, developed in response to President Trump’s Executive Order to eliminate unnecessary regulatory burdens.

The Child Nutrition Programs: Flexibilities for Milk, Whole Grains, and Sodium Requirements final rule offers schools new options as they serve meals under the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program and other federal child nutrition programs.

The rule:

  • Provides the option to offer flavored, low-fat milk to children participating in school meal programs, and to participants ages six and older in the Special Milk Program for Children and the Child and Adult Care Food Program;
  • Requires half of the weekly grains in the school lunch and breakfast menu be whole grain-rich; and
  • Provides more time to reduce sodium levels in school meals.

Perdue said schools have faced challenges serving meals that both are appetizing to students and meet the nutrition standards.

“If kids are not eating what is being served, they are not benefiting, and food is being wasted,” said Perdue. “We all have the same goals in mind -- the health and development of our young people. USDA trusts our local operators to serve healthy meals that meet local preferences and build bright futures with good nutrition.

“We will continue to 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,” said Perdue.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, applauded the flexibility.

“In one of his first official acts as Secretary of Agriculture, I joined Sonny Perdue in announcing school meal regulatory flexibility,” Roberts said. “I’m pleased he has made good on that promise. This important rule helps to ensure that schoolchildren across the country will have full stomachs, not full lunchroom trash cans.”

The changes disappointed nutrition advocates, NPR reported. The American Heart Association issued a statement calling on schools to “stay the course” in serving healthier foods. “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’ healthy in jeopardy.”

The School Nutrition Association, on the other hand, commended USDA for taking steps to address continued challenges with school meal standards, while ensuring students have access to appealing, nutritious meals.

“This final rule strikes a healthy balance. Schools will continue to meet strong nutrition standards but can prepare meals that appeal to a wide range of students,” said SNA President Gay Anderson, SNS.

Source: USDA Food Nutrition Service, Senate Agriculture Committee, American Heart Association, School Nutrition Association

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