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USDA Allows New Flexibility in School Lunches: Food Politics

on January 5, 2013

ImageIn case you were unaware, on December 7th,the USDA announced that they will allow schools some flexibility in implementing school nutrition standards for unlimited meat and grains. This means that as long as the school meets the minimum requirement for meat and grain servings, they no longer have to restrict the maximum size of servings. This new act repealed USDA’s hard-won nutrition standards and prohibit upper limits on calories.

Here’s a brief look at the School Lunch Food Politics timeline:

2004: Congress required school districts to develop their own wellness policies.Congress then asked the USDA to develop new nutrition standards. In turn, the USDA asked the Institute of Medicine to study the situation and make recommendations.

2009: They released the report that called for a Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This included an increase in fruits, veggies, and whole grains, but reducing saturated fat, sodium, and calories in school lunches. They established weekly requirements and limited starchy vegetables like potato to one cup a week.

2010: Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. This required the USDA to set nutrition standards for all food sold and served in schools at any time during the day. This was a big and hard-won step towards the fight against childhood obesity.

Then, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act got the USDA in trouble with lobbyists for businesses that supply French fries and pizza to schools. The results: no weekly limits on French fries; a dab of tomato paste on pizza now counts as a vegetable serving!

Several lawmakers (mostly from meat- and grain-producing states) also wrote the department after the new rules went into effect saying that the kids weren’t getting enough to eat. School administrators complained as well, saying set maximums on grains and meats were too limiting as they tried to plan their daily meals.

Vilsack said in a letter to Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D “This flexibility is being provided to allow more time for the development of products that fit within the new standards while granting schools additional weekly menu planning options to help ensure that children receive a wholesome, nutritious meal every day of the week,”

Broader calorie limits are still in place, but the rules will allow school lunch planners to use as many grains and as much meat as they want. Unfortunately, it looks like Congress decided to care more about the financial health of the companies selling the food and decided to micromanage USDA’s regulations.

Source: www.foodpolitics.com, huffingtonpost.com, photo credit: ecologyflorida.org

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