Changes to school meals proposed this week by the Trump administration are getting praised by school nutritionists and slammed by health experts.
Among other things, the interim final rule released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) allows schools to avoid reducing sodium levels in breakfasts and lunches – a mandate introduced by former President Barack Obama. Sodium reduction was to take place in stages through the year 2022. The USDA said it will retain the current levels through the 2020-2021 school year.
The rule also allows schools to serve flavored one-percent milk and grains that are not whole-grain through the 2018-2019 school year.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the rule takes into account feedback about many schools still facing challenges incorporating some of the meal pattern requirements. “Schools want to offer food that students actually want to eat. It doesn’t do any good to serve nutritious meals if they wind up in the trash can.”
The School Nutrition Association (SNA) released a statement in support of the changes, noting that school nutrition professionals “continue to report challenges with sodium and whole grain mandates, as well as limited access to whole grain waivers."
However, American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown gave the new rule an “F” for failing the test “when it comes to helping our kids eat healthier at school.”
Brown accused the USDA of “chipping away at the nutrition standards to cater to special interests” at the expense of the health of the nation’s schoolchildren. She also dismissed claims that compliance with the previous requirements was burdensome.
“In the last five years, nearly 100 percent of the nation’s participating schools have complied with updated school meal standards. Kids across the country have clearly benefited from these changes. Their meals have less salt, sugar and saturated fat, and they eat 16 percent more vegetables and 23 percent more fruit. Why would the USDA want to roll back the current standards and reverse this excellent progress?”
The interim final rule will take effect beginning July 1, 2018.