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USDA Set to Relax School Lunch Nutrition Rules

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Update: Click here to read about the new school lunch rule, which affects whole grains, sodium limits, and flavored milk.

Newly confirmed U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue will announce an interim rule Monday that is "designed to provide flexibility for school meals," the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.

An announcement from the agency didn't provide specifics, but it's likely the rule will touch on concerns long voiced by congressional Republicans and school nutrition groups, who say that current regulations are overly restrictive and costly to implement.

The USDA created those regulations under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Among other things, they require schools to limit fat and salt in school meals and to offer more whole grains, fresh fruits, and vegetables.

Perdue will announce the interim rule at a Virginia elementary school after eating lunch there with Sen. Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who heads the Senate agriculture committee. Roberts wrote the USDA on April 6, arguing that existing waivers from some of the regulations do not go far enough. The rules, which also create first-of-their-kind restrictions on food sold in vending machines and school fundraisers, "have limited the flexibility of school foodservice providers, led to declining participation in the program, increased food waste in school cafeterias, and caused confusion regarding what foods can be used in fundraisers and extracurricular activities," Roberts wrote.

"I urge you to act administratively and provide immediate relief from certain egregious aspects of the standards, particularly in regards to the rapidly approaching sodium limits and the dairy and whole grain requirements," the letter said. "After providing immediate relief, I urge you to provide long-term flexibility and certainty for our schools, our school foodservice directors, and other stakeholders."

House and Senate Republicans have pushed various measures to relax or eliminate the school nutrition rules in recent years.

But supporters of the regulations dispute complaints that they are costly and lead to excess food waste. Because school meals are the primary source of nutrition for many children, strong nutritional requirements are essential to ensuring their health and to curbing issues like childhood obesity, those groups argue.

Photo: AP file


Further reading about school lunches and student nutrition:

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