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Federal nutrition standards relaxed for school lunches

11 May 2017

Perdue said, "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".

US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, in one of his first acts after his Senate confirmation last week, signed a proclamation that postpones sodium reductions, makes it easier to serve foods without whole grains, and allows the return of chocolate- and strawberry-flavored milk with fat.

Schools, according the U.S. Department of Agriculture, want more control over the sodium, whole grains, and milk they are now serving children. Perdue also announced that 1% milk would be allowed again in schools, as now only non-fat flavored milk is permitted into school cafeterias. Schools have always been required to follow government nutrition rules if they accept federal reimbursements for free and reduced-price meals for low-income students, but the Obama administration's standards were stricter.

Michelle Obama spearheaded reforms to the school lunch program to improve youth nutrition and reduce childhood obesity, but many schools found the restrictions hard to follow.

Perdue's decision to roll back nutrition standards for school lunches is clearly highly controversial. Officials at the Department of Agriculture thought enough of the changes to boast, "Ag Secretary Perdue Moves to Make School Meals Great Again".

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"SNA commends USDA in supporting practical flexibility to benefit school meal programs and students".

Also, an upcoming requirement to lower sodium levels in meals will be delayed, and waivers will still be allowed for the requirement that all grains on the lunch line must be 50 percent whole grain.

Michelle Obama has lunch with pupils at Parklawn Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia, in January 2012.

However, campaign group the US Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) warned the move would "freeze progress" on steps towards reducing salt in school meals.

"A flawless example is in the south, where the schools want to serve grits", said Perdue, a former governor of Georgia. Many times, kids end up throwing away foods they dislike. Relaxing the sodium requirements is also worrisome, she said. These loosened restrictions are for federally funded school lunch programs.

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"It's going to be interesting what the rationale is going to be for adding more salt to foods", she said. The USDA has since set limits on the amount of fat, calories, sugar, and sodium in school foods.

The new directive did not change the previous rules on fruits and vegetables in school meal standards.

"The youngsters at school, they were not eating the meals, and then they would go down to some fast food place and eat twice as much as they would have eaten before", Roberts said.

It's about whether one believes the federal government should dictate nearly every aspect of what kids eat at schools, or if local communities, with the input of parents, should make these decisions.

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Federal nutrition standards relaxed for school lunches