While the push to improve the nutritional content of school lunches predated the Obama administration, it was Michelle Obama who put the effort on the front burner. As part of her Let’s Move! initiative, the former first lady championed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which mandated that federally subsidized school lunches include more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and that they reduce the fat, sugar, and sodium content of the foods.
There was a backlash, however, as some students and parents complained about the revamped menus. Moreover, some schools reported a decline in school lunch purchases, while the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the school lunch program, reported an increase in waste, with kids tossing parts of their lunch.
And now, the Trump administration is rolling back some of the act’s healthy-menu provisions for the 2017-2018 school year, which means the offerings on the school lunch tray will be different when your kids head back to school.
Relaxed nutritional standards
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced in May that the states can now offer schools an exemption to the whole-grain standard. This means that pasta, tortillas, rice, bread, and other starches on the menu can be less than 50 percent whole grains. Additionally, a scheduled decrease in sodium in school lunches has been postponed, meaning that lunches can still contain up to 1230 mg of sodium per meal (the total recommended daily amount is less than 2300 mg for a child).
One of the biggest complaints about the changes to lunches under the Obama regulations was the mandate that flavored milks be fat free. Chocolate milk with one percent fat is now back on the menu. What hasn’t changed is the rule that students must take fruits and vegetables as part of their lunches.
Reaction to new lunches
Feedback from kids to the change has, as of the date this article was published, yet to be seen. But one assumes the availability of less-watery chocolate milk will only be cause for celebration with the vast majority.
Meanwhile, while the School Nutrition Association has praised the relaxed standards for offering better flexibility, Michelle Obama made her feelings known by asking parents to “think about why someone is ok with your kids eating crap.”