Government Relaxes School Lunch Regulations

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May 14, 2017

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced changes in its school lunch policy, in part reversing decisions made by the previous administration.

Among the changes are allowing schools to waive the requirements for nonfat milk and for whole grains in foods. Regulations brought in during the Barack Obama presidency (and championed by First Lady Michelle Obama as part of a movement to combat childhood obesity) included ensuring that at least 51 percent of grains in school lunches be whole grains and that chocolate or strawberry milk must be nonfat. The USDA had granted exemptions to some schools; those exemptions are due to expire in 2018. 

Schools can now continue to have exemptions from both of those requirements. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said that his department was responding to numerous complaints from schools and from food and drink industries. Among the complaints were that foods like whole-grain biscuits and whole-grain grits were more expensive and were also being thrown away in large numbers at some schools.

In addition, a deadline for schools to cut the amount of sodium in their lunch food will be moved from July 2017 to sometime in 2020.

The National School Lunch Program, created in 1946, provides meals to students at more than 101,000 schools at little or no cost. Estimates of the number of American children currently enrolled in the program exceed 31 million. 

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