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Mixed Reactions to Final Rule on School Meal Flexibilities

As previously posted on this blog on November 30, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced temporary exemptions to some of the rigid nutrition standards for school meals established by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010 and published an interim final rule, titled the “School Meal Flexibility Rule,” that would make some of those changes permanent. 

USDA announced that it will publish a final rule in the Federal Register tomorrow, December 12, that will codify three menu planning flexibilities that were temporarily established by the interim final rule. (A pre-publication, unofficial version of the rule can be viewed here.) The three flexibilities are described below.

  • Flavored, low-fat (1%) milk will be included under the milk option in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs and will be allowed in the Special Milk Program for Children and in the Child and Adult Care Food Program for participants ages 6 and older.
     
  • Half of the weekly grains in the school lunch and breakfast menu must be whole grain-rich. (Previously, 100% had to whole grain unless an exemption was obtained.)
     
  • Schools in the lunch and breakfast program will have more time to reduce sodium levels and the final target will be lower than previously established.

Response to the final rule for school meals has been mixed. Some of the reactions are shown below.

  • “We hope all schools reject this regulation and continue their commitment to serve healthier foods on our kids’ plates.” American Heart Association
     
  • “[USDA’s] 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…Despite extensive efforts to boost consumption of healthy school meals, student lunch participation continues to gradually decline, as nearly 2 million fewer students choose school lunch each day since updated nutrition standards took effect.” The School Nutrition Association
     
  • “The new rule is good news for schools, students and American dairy farmers.” The National Milk Producers Federation
     
  • “[USDA’s] final rule on school nutrition standards runs counter to accepted science about quality school nutrition. By rolling back previous standards that were designed to limit students’ sodium intake and promote the consumption of healthier whole grains, USDA is threatening the progress we’ve made toward improving nutrition in schools.” Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA), ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, as quoted in The Washington Post
     
  • In a press release concerning the final rule, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue noted that schools have faced challenges serving meals that both are appetizing and meet nutritional standards. “If kids are not eating what is being served, they are not benefiting, and food is being wasted,” he added.
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