U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue issued a "proclamation" Monday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will provide greater flexibility in nutrition requirements for school meal programs in order to make food choices more appealing to students, as well as healthful.
And as costs rise, most states are finding that fewer kids are eating lunches provided in schools - about 1 million students have opted not to have school lunch every day, the USDA said. Schools have always been required to follow government nutrition rules if they accept federal reimbursements for free and reduced-price meals for low-income students, but these standards were stricter.
Under the new guidelines, schools can skip whole grain options to students, instead offering any type of grains on the menu for the 2017-2018 school year.
The rules restricted schools from serving salty, sugary and higher-fat products and required them to serve more fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthier items.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, who sits on the Senate Committee of Agriculture, joined Perdue on stage at Catoctin Elementary in Leesburg, Virginia.
"I think this is just a testament to the fact that (the standards) are working and. students are eating more fresh fruits and vegetables in school meals, and that schools nationwide have done a good job implementing the new fruit and vegetable standards", DiSogra said. But some health advocates are still dismayed by the new rules, which had been previously suggested by the School Nutrition Association, the organization that represents school food professionals and which receives a large portion of its revenue from donations from major food companies. "If they don't eat it, they go hungry, more hungry, then they'll end up at a fast food franchise - nothing against fast food - but they'll eat twice as much and that's absolutely contrary to what we're trying to do with nutritious meals".
"Today's commitment by Secretary Perdue addresses concerns raised in SNA's 2017 Position Paper, which requested maintaining Target 1 sodium levels and restoring the initial requirement that at least half of grains offered through school meals be whole grain rich".
The Food and Drug Administration has made a decision to delay calorie labeling rules set to go into effect this week.
The changes announced Monday are seen by some as undermining a bipartisan breakthrough.
Dairy leaders thanked newly confirmed Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue for recognizing the important role school milk plays in ensuring school-aged children get the nutrition they need.
Schools won't have to cut the salt in kids' meals just yet.
"We hear stories from our members about students who bring contraband salt shakers ... into the school to add flavor to the meals", said Patricia Montage, the chief executive of the School Nutrition Association. The school is compliant with the whole-grain requirements, but no one is eating the grits.
Perdue praised Mrs. Obama early in his speech for her work in the fight against childhood obesity. This impacts schools in two ways: The decline in school lunch participation means reduced revenue to schools while they simultaneously are encountering increased costs. He announced it at a Virginia school where a small crowd came to protest. "That doesn't make any sense".