Updated school lunch rules to ease pandemic disruptions

Low-fat chocolate milk in place of only nonfat. There are fewer whole-grain options. Salt limits are less severe.

Updated school lunch rules to ease pandemic disruptions

Low-fat chocolate milk in place of only nonfat. There are fewer whole-grain options. Salt limits are less severe.

Friday's transitional standards were issued by the Biden administration to school lunches. They are intended to help cafeterias get back on track to a healthier course after recovering from supply chain disruptions and pandemics.

Despite not being able to meet the nutrition guidelines set by the government, schools have not been penalized for failing to do so. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the "bridge" rule, which extends emergency flexibilities to schools as they transition back to normal over the next two school year.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stated, "We salute schools' heroic efforts through the challenges of this Pandemic in order to continue serving children the most nutritious meals possible."

He stated that the standards he is putting in place for next two school years will allow schools to transition to a future built on the incredible strides made over the past decade in improving school meal nutrition.

These changes will allow schools and child care providers to offer low-fat, not just nonfat, flavored milk alongside regular low-fat milk. Whole grain rich will be required for at least 80% of breads, cereals, and rolls.

In 2023-24, the sodium permitted in school lunches is expected to decrease by 10%. This is a smaller decrease than originally planned, but it aligns with wider sodium reduction targets released recently by the Food and Drug Administration.

In 2012, the USDA revised school nutrition standards as part of Michelle Obama's Healthy Eating Initiative. Schools were instructed to eliminate white bread and other refined grains, increase fruits and vegetables, reduce sodium and set calorie limits.

Later the Trump administration reversed nutrition standards. However, that move was rejected by a federal judge in 2020. Judge said that his administration failed to give sufficient public notice about the change.

USDA oversees the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, which offer millions of meals for free or at a reduced price each day.

Administrators claim that supply chain issues have made it difficult to find food that meets the standards. COVID-19 exposures and infections have also depleted staff.

The non-profit School Nutrition Association conducted a November 2021 survey and found that 96% of respondents mentioned problems with suppliers who did not have enough whole-grain, low sodium, or low-fat menu items.

Beth Wallace, President of the Association, said that school nutrition professionals were frantic trying to get enough food on the plate for students amid constant supply chain disruptions. She also praised the Agriculture Department's actions.

She stated that the group hopes to work with USDA "to evaluate the viability of nutrition standards moving ahead."

Vilsack stated that new standards for long-term sustainability are being developed for 2024-25, and beyond.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), who chairs the House Education & Labor Committee said that "School meal programs faced significant obstacles in serving students and their families during the pandemic. These included challenges to safely delivering food to schools during school closures and securing the ingredients and supplies that school meal staff require."

He urged Congress to increase support for child nutrition programs, which were part of the American Rescue Plan.

Scott stated, "I am focused to secure the critical investments in the House-passed Build back Better Act and advancing an extensive reauthorization federal child nutrition programs."