Sunday, May 7, 2017

School lunch rules relaxed: USDA delays lower salt limit, allows 1% milk, lets states exempt schools from whole-grain rule

Lunch at school in Henderson (The Gleaner photo)
Schools won't have to cut salt until 2020, and can serve 1 percent fat milk instead of nonfat milk, and states can allow some schools to serve fewer whole grains, under relaxed nutrition guidelines announced May 1 by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

The announcement reversed the standards championed by former First Lady Michelle Obama in response to increasing obesity among children, but was welcomed by many school nutrition directors.

Mike Sallee, nutrition coordinator for Elizabethtown Inde­pendent Schools, told The News-Enterprise that he had been trying to figure out how to reduce the amount of sodium in meals to 935 milligrams from 1,230 mg, a “huge challenge” because food producers also would have to adjust to using lower amounts of sodium.

Josey Crew, nutrition director for Hardin County Schools, agreed. “It was kind of getting ridiculous with how they wanted to go,” she said, adding that the new rules might also help discourage food waste.

Crew and Sallee told the Elizabethtown newspaper's Katherine Knott that they are waiting for more guidance from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture on the changes. The new rules allow states to "grant exemptions to schools struggling to meet the whole-grain requirement for the 2017-18 school year," Knott writes. "Currently, all grains served must be whole-grain rich."

The National Parent Teacher Association said it was disappointed in the changes. “One in six adolescents is obese, while one in five faces hunger on a daily basis,” President Laura Bay said in a news release. “Critical progress has been made to provide children with healthier foods in schools. It is important that we build on this progress and do not go backward.”

However, "The changes were supported by the School Nutrition Association, the national organization for school nutrition professionals," Knott notes. "They have lobbied for more flexibility since requirements went into place in 2012."

Crew told Knott that complying with the 100 percent whole-grain requirement initially was difficult, especially for pizza: “To find a whole grain crust that tastes good was hard.” However, food manufacturers adapted, and “Now it tastes good. They figured out a good way to make it.”

Though the regulations are being relaxed, they have been in place for several years and the new offerings are "more accepted by students," Knott reports. "For younger students, it’s all they know when it comes to school lunches, Crew said."

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