USDA approves more meat, grains in school lunches

WASHINGTON — The Agriculture Department is responding to criticism over new school lunch rules by allowing more grains and meat in kids’ meals.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told members of Congress in a letter Friday that the department will do away with daily and weekly limits of meats and grains. Several lawmakers wrote the department after the new rules went into effect in September saying kids aren’t getting enough to eat.

School administrators also complained, saying set maximums on grains and meats are too limiting as they try to plan daily meals.

“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,” Vilsack said in a letter to Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

The new guidelines were intended to address increasing childhood obesity levels. They set limits on calories and salt, and phase in more whole grains. Schools must offer at least one vegetable or fruit per meal. The department also dictated how much of certain food groups could be served.

While nutritionists and some parents have praised the new school lunch standards, others, including many conservative lawmakers, refer to them as government overreach. Yet many of those same lawmakers also have complained about hearing from constituents who say their kids are hungry at school.

Though broader calorie limits are still in place, the rules tweak will allow school lunch planners to use as many grains and as much meat as they want. In comments to USDA, many had said grains shouldn’t be limited because they are a part of so many meals, and that it was difficult to always find the right size of meat.

The new tweak doesn’t upset nutritionists who fought for the school lunch overhaul. Margo Wootan, a nutrition lobbyist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says the change is minor and the new guidance shows that USDA will work with school nutrition officials and others who have concerns.

“It takes time to work out the kinks,” Wootan said. “This should show Congress that they don’t need to interfere legislatively.”

Congress has already interfered with the rules. Last year, after USDA first proposed the new guidelines, Congress prohibited USDA from limiting potatoes and french fries and allowed school lunchrooms to continue counting tomato paste on pizza as a vegetable.

The school lunch rules apply to federally subsidized lunches served to low-income children. Those meals have always been subject to nutritional guidelines because they are partially paid for by the federal government, but the new rules put broader restrictions on what could be served as childhood obesity rates have skyrocketed.

School kids can still buy additional foods in other parts of the lunchroom and the school. Congress two years ago directed USDA to regulate those foods as well, but the department has yet to issue those rules.

Sen. Hoeven, who had written Vilsack to express concern about the rules, said he will be supportive of the meals overhaul if the USDA continues to be flexible when problems arise.

“This is an important step,” he said. “They are responding and that’s what they need to do.”

More in Local News

Snohomish County has its own history of train derailments

This morning’s wreck in DuPont is not affecting train service to points north and east of Seattle.

Wildlife, guns and property taxes are on the agenda in 2018

State lawmakers are pre-filing bills they hope to pass in the 2018 legislative session.

Three arrested for allegedly stealing $7K worth of perfume

One of the women from Portland, Oregon, was caught shoplifting at Sephora in the Alderwood mall.

Spring start set for big Everett apartment complex

The building will be eight stories tall, with seven of those visible from Broadway.

Two from Oak Harbor killed in head-on, 2-car crash

One car crossed the center line, hitting the other car. Both drivers died.

Clues in recovered backpack help identify robbery suspect

Police find a ticket with the man’s name on it after an attempted shoplifting at a Safeway.

Herald photos of the week

A weekly collection of The Herald’s top images by staff photographers and… Continue reading

Police presence returns to Edmonds School District

Jacob Hubby is set to walk the halls of Meadowdale High School as a school resource officer.

County budget takes effect without Somers’ signature

The council passed its version with unanimous support and could have overridden an executive veto.

Most Read