USDA finalizes new school meals rule

By Beth Newhart contact

- Last updated on GMT

“If kids are not eating what is being served, they are not benefiting, and food is being wasted." Pic: ©GettyImages/Steve Debenport
“If kids are not eating what is being served, they are not benefiting, and food is being wasted." Pic: ©GettyImages/Steve Debenport

Related tags: Milk, Cheese, Sodium, school meals

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is relaxing school lunch nutrition standards put in place by the Obama Administration and giving more menu control back to schools. It focuses on flexibility for milk, whole grains and sodium standards.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has been working to roll back nutrition guidelines set by former First Lady Michelle Obama in her initiatives to combat childhood obesity. The USDA said the recent move “empowered local schools with additional options to serve healthy and appealing meals.”

The USDA under the Trump Administration made a promise in May 2017 to “develop forward-thinking strategies”​ that made lunches ‘practical’ as well as healthy. Secretary Perdue said this final rule delivers on that promise.

President Trump’s signed an Executive Order to eliminate unnecessary regulatory burdens, which this rule will fall under. The USDA provides meals to 99,000 schools with more than 30 million children affected by menu changes.

A balance of appetizing and nutritious

The Child Nutrition Programs: Flexibilities for Milk, Whole Grains, and Sodium Requirements rule:

  • Provides the option to offer flavored, low-fat milk to children participating in school meal programs, and to participants ages six and older in the Special Milk Program for Children (SMP) and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)
  • Requires half of the weekly grains in the school lunch and breakfast menu be whole grain-rich
  • Provides more time to reduce sodium levels in school meals.

“USDA is committed to serving meals to kids that are both nutritious and satisfying. These common-sense flexibilities provide excellent customer service to our local school nutrition professionals, while giving children the world-class food service they deserve,”​ Perdue said.

The USDA claims that the rule is necessary because it’s a struggle for the meals with tighter restrictions to be appetizing to kids. Perdue believes that giving more menu power back to schools will help mitigate the challenges.

“If kids are not eating what is being served, they are not benefiting, and food is being wasted. We all have the same goals in mind -- the health and development of our young people. USDA trusts our local operators to serve healthy meals that meet local preferences and build bright futures with good nutrition,”​ he said.

“We will continue to listen to schools, and make common-sense changes as needed, to ensure they can meet the needs of their students based on their real-world experience in local communities.”

Dairy groups are on board

The International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) reacted positively to the new rule, supporting the decision to give kids more choice in their milk.

Michael Dykes, president and CEO of IDFA, said, “This final rule makes permanent the option for schools to offer low-fat flavored milk at each meal service. We commend USDA’s commitment to provide students with access to a variety of nutritious and healthy milk options, including the flavored milks they enjoy.”

Dykes cited the importance of milk in children’s diets as it is the number one source of nine essential nutrients and a source of three out of four nutrients of public health concern for under-consumption: potassium, vitamin D and calcium.

“We also appreciate that USDA gave schools more time to reduce sodium levels in meals. This action is positive for the cheese industry, because sodium is an essential ingredient in cheese that cannot be easily lowered,”​ he said.

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) also applauded the rule, expressing appreciation for the ‘bipartisan efforts’ of Congress who made the change happen.

Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the NMPF, said, “NMPF thanks Secretary Perdue for completing this step that will encourage milk consumption in schools. USDA’s own studies have shown that students drank less milk after low-fat chocolate milk was removed from schools. Returning low-fat flavored milk to school menus will help reverse this harmful trend.”

“Milk has been an integral part of school meals since their beginning, and greater milk consumption equals better nutrition for America’s kids. The new rule is good news for schools, students and American dairy farmers.”

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