Mary Esch / AP
School lunches are healthier than they were five years ago. However, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue says schools need more flexibility in serving meals that children will eat.
"If children do not eat what is served, they will not benefit, and food will be wasted," Perdue said in a statement a rule to be released later this month.
The rule gives managers more leeway in serving white bread, biscuits, tortillas and white pasta by requiring that only half of the grains served in the school meal each week be whole-grain. Currently, schools are only allowed to serve wholemeal bread and pasta, unless they receive a waiver. In addition, the government is slowing down the goals developed during the Obama administration to reduce sodium.
"We will continue to listen to schools and make sensible changes as needed to ensure that they meet the needs of their students based on their real experiences in local communities," Perdue wrote in a statement.
The changes have fueled the wrath of food advocates who have played an important role in promoting healthier school meals.
"Parents will be disappointed to learn that meals served to their children at school are under attack by President Trump's de-regulation agenda," said Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in a statement. She points out that by the 2024-2025 school year, schools will have time to move to the next phase of sodium reduction set forth in the original rules developed by the Obama administration.
"Worse still, the government threw down the third The final targets for lowering the sodium concentration that were originally scheduled for the 2022-2023 school year," Wootan said. "This will mean that school lunches will not be in line with American dietary guidelines as required by law."
And why is that important? Too much sodium in our diet can increase blood pressure, which increases the risk of heart disease. As we have reported, children in the US consume an average of 3,387 mg of sodium per day (just like adults). This is far more than the 2,300 mg daily limit recommended by federal dietary guidelines.
The American Heart Association issued a statement calling on schools to "stay the course" for healthier foods. "When it comes to the health of our children, there should be no" flexibility. "Failure to comply with the science-based sodium standards for school meals originally introduced by the USDA endangers children's health," the statement says. Earlier this year, the AHA President wrote to the USDA expressing disappointment over the plan to weaken the criteria for sodium and whole grains.
The School Nutrition Association, which represents school nutrition administrators across the country, praised the changes. The group says that attendance at school lunches has gradually declined. The SNA says since the new food standards came into force, nearly two million children a day opt for a school meal.
"School nutrition experts have made tremendous progress in improving student nutrition, but the pace and degree of menu changes under an updated nutritional standard were more than some students would accept," wrote SNA President Gay Anderson in a publication , "We value Secretary Perdue's search for solutions to address the concerns of schools and students, which will encourage more students to eat healthy school meals that meet calorie limits and offer fruits, vegetables and milk."