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White House Nutrition Expert Departs as Congress Ponders School Lunch Regs

Sam-Kass-Michelle-Obama-blog-thumb-550x364-10613.jpgBy guest blogger Evie Blad. This post first appeared on Rules for Enagagement.

Sam Kass, the executive director of first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move initiative, plans to leave his job at the end of the month to live full-time in New York City, the White House announced Monday.

Kass--who is also a long-time personal chef for the Obamas and the first ever White House senior policy advisor on nutrition--is perhaps best known in education circles as a cheerleader of heightened nutrition standards for school meals. As part of Let's Move, he also helped promote changes to the ways food is marketed to kids and other healthy eating efforts.

"Sam has been an integral part of Let's Move! from its very beginning--from discussions about children's health around my kitchen table in Chicago, to setting the strategic vision of a national campaign in the White House, to spearheading efforts with the private sector across the country," Michelle Obama said in a statement. "Sam leaves an extraordinary legacy of progress, including healthier food options in grocery store aisles, more nutritious school lunches, and new efforts that have improved how healthy food is marketed to our kids."

Kass will "remain engaged with the First Lady's Let's Move! initiative and the continuing effort to advance childhood nutrition," the White House said. News of his departure from Washington comes as advocates brace for yet another potential battle over the school meal regulations that may be folded into federal budget negotiations.

The rules, created as a result of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, tighten limits on salt, fat, and calories in school meals. They also require servings of whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables.

As my colleague Lauren Camera reports, Congress is working to iron out a budget deal this week in hopes of averting another government shutdown. Details of that deal are expected to be released tomorrow, and Rules readers should pay careful attention to the agriculture appropriations portion.

This summer, the House appropriations committee favored including a rider in its agriculture appropriations bill that would have created a waiver process that would allow some schools to take a year off from the rules (pizza for everyone!). The Senate's committee ironed out a compromise that would have given schools a break from the next phase of sodium restrictions, but fell short of allowing them to opt out of the rules all together. 

So will we see a compromise between the two? A pedal-to-the-metal push for the House approach? Or will Congress pass a budget deal that doesn't address the nutrition standards at all? 

We'll see.

Photo: First lady Michelle Obama and Sam Kass taste food during a Let's Move event with members of Bravo television's series "Top Chef" in 2012 in Dallas. --Carolyn Kaster/AP-File

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