Just about everyone agrees that schoolchildren deserve to eat healthy, nutritious food. But many schools have complained for years that the school lunch rules spearheaded by former first lady Michelle Obama are simply too strict.
“Schools and school districts continue to tell us that there is still too much food waste and that more commonsense flexibility is needed to provide students nutritious and appetizing meals,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said earlier this month. “We listened and now we’re getting to work.”
New rules from the Department of Agriculture scale back some required serving sizes for fruits and vegetables and allow more latitude for cafeterias to serve foods a la carte rather than bundled as an entire meal.
Supporters of Obama’s 2010 “Let’s Move!” campaign that led to the school cafeteria rules decried the move, saying it would roll back gains toward promoting healthier youth and combating childhood obesity. But others conceded a spate of unintended consequences over the years. Gay Anderson, president of the School Nutrition Association, emphasized that the 2012 standards brought much-needed changes to school cafeterias, but they also led to higher costs, more food waste, and a noticeable drop in student participation. Cafeteria managers had difficulty finding affordable options that children would actually eat.
Those consequences led to several modifications already, including a loosening of the requirement for 100 percent whole grains to 50 percent in 2014 and the reintroduction of low-fat instead of skim chocolate milk in 2018. —Laura Edghill