Though she never directly involved herself in the legislative process, former first lady Michelle Obama became the face of an incredibly unpopular effort to make school lunches healthier during her husband’s tenure, an effort that made school lunches unappetizing for many school children, so much so that many students simply refused to eat.
But hungry students across the country can let out a cheer now that the strict regulations on the nutritional values of school lunches imposed during the Obama era are being rolled back under President Donald Trump’s U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In a bid to provide schools with more flexibility to meet their varied and specific nutritional needs for students, the USDA is scaling back the strict mandates imposed by the Obama administration, according to NBC News.
Rigid requirements relaxed
Chief among the rollbacks was a requirement that only whole grain foods be served, a mandate that has now been reduced to require only half of the foods served to be of the whole grain variety.
Following close on the heels of that change, a prohibition against flavored milk that wasn’t fat-free has also been lifted, meaning students can once again enjoy cartons of low-fat chocolate milk with their lunches.
Similarly, lofty goals for the significant limitation of sodium in school lunches have been done away with, though more easily attainable goals of reduced sodium content remain in place.
NBC noted that the relaxation of the rules had been requested by an industry group known as the School Nutrition Association, which includes members that range from local cafeteria operators to national franchises like Domino’s Pizza, Kelloggs, and PepsiCo, among others.
The association had argued that the whole grains-only requirement had proven too difficult for some schools to reach, and requested more flexibility in terms of being able to accommodate the different cultural and regional tastes of students.
Listening to and accommodating for “real-world experience”
In a news release about the rule changes by the USDA, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said: “USDA is committed to serving meals to kids that are both nutritious and satisfying. These common-sense flexibilities provide excellent customer service to our local school nutrition professionals, while giving children the world-class food service they deserve.
“If kids are not eating what is being served, they are not benefiting, and food is being wasted,” Perdue continued. “We all have the same goals in mind — the health and development of our young people. USDA trusts our local operators to serve healthy meals that meet local preferences and build bright futures with good nutrition.
“We will continue to listen to schools, and make common-sense changes as needed, to ensure they can meet the needs of their students based on their real-world experience in local communities,” he added.
The USDA further noted that the scaled-back nutritional requirements and increased local flexibility would ultimately prove beneficial to the health and well-being of the estimated 30 million students per year who take part in the USDA’s school lunch program at some 99,000 schools and institutions nationwide.
The healthy school lunch mandates had been an achievement the Obama administration and former first lady were exceedingly proud of, but they stood alone when it came to the thoughts and feelings of the students who actually have to eat those school lunches.
Thankfully, the Trump administration has made changes to those Obama-era nutritional mandates that will make school lunches great again.