February 24, 2020

National School Lunch Program

USDA implements changes to the National School Lunch Program

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced two new rules that will provide local school and summer foodservice operators the opportunity to lead their National School Lunch Programs with more leniency. The reforms advocate to increase “flexibility”, removing policies by former first lady Michelle Obama. The USDA announced the reform on Obama’s birthday, although a department representative said it was not intentional. The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential childcare institutions, that provides nutritionally balanced, low- or no-cost lunches to children each day.

The first rule will allow school nutrition professionals more flexibility to serve foods that appeal to students as a way to reduce food waste. The new rule will allow schools to offer more vegetable varieties, increase a la carte purchases, customize meal patterns to children’s ages, tailor school breakfast by allowing schools to adjust fruit servings and meat or meat alternatives to ultimately encourage eating breakfast outside of school, and shift to a performance-focused administration review.

The second proposed rule reforms the Summer Food Service Program to provide flexibility for foodservice operators when choosing meal offerings, meal service time, and the ability to take food offsite, streamline processes, balance flexibility with strong monitoring to help maximize resources, and clarify performance standards and eligibility requirements.

The proposal has received backlash for creating a “huge loophole in the school nutrition guidelines,” Colin Schwartz, deputy director of legislative affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told Politico. Critics also argue that the rules will allow for children to consume more pizza and burgers, which can now be considered as a “snack”, and fewer fruits and vegetables. “With one in three of our kids on track to have diabetes, it’s unconscionable that the Trump administration would do the bidding of the potato and junk food industries,” said Sam Kass, who served as the executive director of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign, to the New York Times.

Perdue stated in a press release “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. We listened and now we’re getting to work.” The changes are said to “empower” schools and provide “children with wholesome, nutritious food [as] part of our motto at USDA, which is to ‘do right and feed everyone.’”