Under the Obama administration, school meals really improved. Less fat, sugar and salt. Smaller portion sizes. More fruits and vegetables.
The initiative under former US First Lady, Michelle Obama, aimed to fight child obesity, was reportedly wildly successful to bring nutrition back to school lunch trays.
That may not be the case anymore with the new chief executive in the White House. Sonny Perdue, who heads the US Department of Agriculture (USDA is the agency that sets school meal rules) thinks that while more healthy food are being served, they’re also going to waste because students just aren’t eating them.
“Schools want to offer food that students actually want to eat. It doesn’t do any good to serve nutritious meals if they wind up in the trash can.”
— Hunter Whitney (@huntwhitney4) November 13, 2014
These flexibilities give schools the local control they need to provide nutritious meals that school children find appetizing.”
It’s aimed at giving the National School Lunch Program, a federal-assisted meal program that provides nutritionally balanced, reduced-cost or free lunches to children, “regulatory flexibility” in a few areas.
So with all these changes, what do the current school lunches look now?
1. More flavoured milk
Regular chocolate milk is now back on the school menu – Schools are now allowed to serve flavoured milk with 1 percent fat under the new changes. The Obama-regulations had mandated that flavoured milk must be nonfat, and unflavoured milk that is low-fat or nonfat.
According to cafeteria administrators, however, children have already gotten used to the nonfat version. And dairy processors are already making milk for school cafeterias based on the Obama-era regulations.
2. More salt
The current high school lunch meal contains two-thirds of a child’s daily sodium intake – that’s why too much salt and should be lowered. But the Trump administration is pausing the enforcement of an Obama-era regulation to aggressively sodium in school meals in each year.
Instead, the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service announced last November that they’re keeping the current targets for sodium levels reductions unchanged through 2018, Bloomberg reported.
That means each school must not exceed the following sodium content: 1,230 mg per meal for elementary, 1,360mg for middle and 1,420 mg for high schools.
“It’s too much salt,” said Margo Wootan with the Center for Science in the Public interest. “This is locking in dangerously high levels of salt in school meals.”
3. Less whole grains
Previously, the federal government had required schools to ensure buns, pasta and other grain-based food to be made at least half from whole grains. Now, districts are given more time to apply for exemptions to this rule so that they can serve more food made from white flour.
Together with an excess of salt, (see point 2 above, cutting whole grains out can contribute towards premature cardiovascular death, according to Rachna Govani, co-founder of Michigan-based Foodstand, citing research by the American Heart Association.
“While it’s true that kids need to eat, claiming that kids won’t eat the healthier meals isn’t a good excuse not to serve them,” Govani told USA TODAY.
“By providing unhealthy food for our children we train their taste buds to prefer high fat, high salt, high sugar foods. We need to retrain our children’s taste buds.”