Rollback proposed for Michelle Obama school lunch guidelines

January 17, 2020 - 7:42 pm

AP Photo/Morgan Lee,


The Trump administration on Friday took another step toward dismantling Michelle Obama's school nutrition guidelines, proposing a new rule that could lead to more pizza and fries and less fruit and a smaller variety of vegetables on school menus.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who announced the rule changes on Obama’s birthday, said they were needed to give schools more flexibility and reduce waste while still providing nutritious and appetizing meals.

Under the proposal, schools would be allowed to cut the amount of certain types of vegetables served at lunch, and legumes offered as a meat alternative also could be counted as part of the vegetable requirement. Potatoes could be served as a vegetable.

The proposal also would allow schools to reduce the amount of fruit at on-the-go breakfast served outside the cafeteria.

Gay Anderson, president of the School Nutrition Association, said that while the nutrition standards had been a success overall, some requirements led to reduced participation in the program, higher costs and waste.

“USDA’s school meal flexibilities are helping us manage these challenges and prepare nutritious meals that appeal to diverse student tastes,” Anderson said in a statement.

The school meals program serves about 30 million students, most of them from low-income families.

Rep. Bobby Scott, (D-Virginia), chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, said the proposal “threatens the progress we’ve made toward improving nutrition in schools.”

“For many children, the food they eat at school is their only access to healthy, nutritious meals,” he said.

The American Heart Association said the rule would “put children’s health at risk.”

“Healthy school meals help combat childhood obesity and poor cardiovascular health, but they also help establish a foundation for a lifetime of healthy behaviors," the group said.

The proposed rule is the second move by the Trump administration to scale back the school lunch program’s nutrition standards. Under a 2018 rule, the administration reduced the whole grains that had to be served and allowed low-fat chocolate milk. Before the rule change, only fat-free flavored milk was permitted.

Perdue announced the proposed changes in San Antonio, Texas.

“Schools and school districts continue to tell us that there is still too much food waste and that more common-sense flexibility is needed to provide students nutritious and appetizing meals,” he said.

The agency also proposed changes to the summer meals program, which serves 2.6 million children.

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