USDA to Expand Flexibility in New Healthier School Lunch Program
Congress, cafeteria directors, and some students turned their noses up at healthier school lunches as part of the new Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act. The program will offer more choices in terms of grains, meat, and meat substitutes as part of the program.
According to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, “[t]he top operational challenge that states and schools have reported is in serving meals that fit within the weekly minimum and maximum serving ranges for the grains and meat/meat alternate portions of the standards. To help schools make a successful transition to the new requirements, we have provided additional flexibility in meeting the requirements for these components. If a school is meeting just the minimum serving requirements for these two food groups, they will be considered in compliance with that portion of the standards, regardless of whether they have exceeded the maximum.”
Vilsack left the door open for more changes to come as schools adjust to the new program. Most recently, House Republicans Steve King (R-IA) and Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) introduced a bill that sought to abolish new calorie limits on school lunches put in place by the USDA last year. Current calorie limits are 650 calories for kindergarten through 5th graders, 700 for 7th and 8th graders, and 850 for high school students.
“If Washington is going to be in the school lunch business, then it should at least ensure that children have full stomachs,” said Huelskamp. “Parents who purchase school lunches for their children or taxpayers who support free- and reduced- lunch programs have the expectation that what kids eat are meals — not mere snacks.”
Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act
The Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act was tasked with reducing added sugars in canned fruits and juices by 35-55 percent, providing low sodium canned corn and tomatoes, reducing sodium in dairy, including processed dairy, by 50 percent, providing that whole grain bread be a minimum of 51 percent whole grains, and replacing fried choices with roasted and glazed protein choices.
In general, these changes have been welcomed in a time when childhood obesity threatens the next generation. Today, one in three kids are considered overweight or obese. But there is an adjustment period, specifically learning how to prepare fruits and vegetables in ways that kids enjoy, while at the same time providing enough variety.