Changes to school lunch program will offer more milk & flexibility

USDA has unveiled new rules to change current school lunch program standards.

Amanda Radke

December 11, 2017

3 Min Read
Changes to school lunch program will offer more milk & flexibility

A few weeks ago, USDA announced it would be making new rule changes to school lunch standards. This is a relief to many schools, teachers, parents and students who have long criticized former First Lady Michelle Obama’s revisions to the school lunch program.

In an effort to promote healthy kids, Obama pushed for more fruits and vegetables while limiting meat and dairy products. The results, in my opinion, were disastrous, with plenty of food ending up in the trash can, according to students who tweeted about their sad and unfulfilling meal choices.

However, all of that is about to change. According to the USDA, the new School Meal Flexibility Rule, published on Nov. 29, will work closely with school nutrition professionals and administrators to provide practical and healthful meals that kids will actually eat.

In a press release about the new rule, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said, “Schools need flexibility in menu planning so they can serve nutritious and appealing meals. Based on the feedback we’ve gotten from students, schools, and food service professionals in local schools across America, it’s clear that many still face challenges incorporating some of the meal pattern requirements.

READ: Trump plans to axe Michelle Obama's school lunch program

“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. These flexibilities give schools the local control they need to provide nutritious meals that school children find appetizing.”

Per the rule, “This interim final rule extends through school year 2018-2019 three menu planning flexibilities currently available to many Child Nutrition Program operators, giving them near-term certainty about program requirements and more local control to serve nutritious and appealing meals to millions of children nationwide. These flexibilities include: Providing operators the option to offer flavored, low-fat (1% fat) milk in the Child Nutrition Programs; extending the state agencies' option to allow individual school food authorities to include grains that are not whole grain-rich in the weekly menu offered under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP); and retaining Sodium Target 1 in the NSLP and SBP.

“This interim final rule addresses significant challenges faced by local operators regarding milk, whole grains and sodium requirements and their impact on food development and reformulation, menu planning, and school food service procurement and contract decisions. The comments from the public on the long-term availability of these three flexibilities will help inform the development of a final rule, which is expected to be published in fall 2018 and implemented in school year 2019-2020.”

READ: Where's the beef in school lunch programs?

The rule is open to public comments until Jan. 29, 2018. You can read the proposed changes in their entirety by clicking here.

While the proposed changes don’t address animal protein serving sizes (which I believe need to be increased), the rule does offer schools more flexibility to develop meal plans that meet the tastes and preferences of their students and faculty, and it also mandates that at least two liquid dairy options are offered in schools.

This is a win in my book and certainly a step in the right direction. Let’s hope, if this rule moves forward, the students agree.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Farm Progress.

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