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School Meals: Three Cabinet Secretaries Write in Support of Nutrition Standards

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As politicians on Capitol Hill once again reheat old battles over school meals, leaders of three federal agencies wrote an editorial this week in support of heightened nutrition standards for the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs.

Now is not the time to step back from the requirements created under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, Agriculture SecretaryTom Vilsack, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell wrote in an opinion piece for USA Today. Those requirements call on schools to serve more fresh produce and whole grains, and they limit the amount of sodium, calories, and fat that can be served in school meals. From the editorial:

"The updated school meals standards introduced across the country in 2012 are undoubtedly improving the quality of school meals as well as the health and well-being of our children.

A handful of vocal critics will tell you otherwise—that school meals were better in the 'old days.' But the old days are no longer acceptable, not when our children are battling an obesity epidemic that impacts the long-term health of the American people and, according to retired U.S. generals, threatens our national security by making almost one in three young adults unfit to serve in our nation's military."

Vilsack, Duncan, and Burwell write as some members of Congress rally support for a bill reintroduced by South Dakota Rep. Kristi Noem this month. The bill, known previously as the Reducing Federal Mandates on School Lunch Act, would:

  • Permanently ease whole grain requirements. If temporary measures do not remain in place, schools will eventually be required to serve 100 percent whole grain items.
  • Permanently sodium requirements, which are also currently relaxed under a temporary legislative rider.
  • Provide "flexibility" on rules Noem says have increased costs for school districts, including competitive food regulations, and rules related to school lunch prices.
  • Make the USDA's easing of the meat and grain requirements permanent through law, rather than regulations.
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