Stricter school nutrition guidelines delayed for now
- Child nutrition programs now have more time to implement requirements issued during the Obama administration that were designed to improve the nutritional value of school meals, The Hill reports.
- Last Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released an "interim final rule" saying, for example, that current sodium levels — an average of less than 1,230 milligrams in elementary schools, 1,360 in middle schools, and 1,420 in high schools — can remain in place through the 2018-19 school year. Under Obama’s plan, sodium levels were supposed to be reduced starting last July.
- Schools can also continue offering flavored 1% milk and serve non-whole grain items, with a final rule expected to be announced in the fall of 2018 and go into effect in 2019-20. The extended flexibility is a response to complaints from school nutrition managers about the challenges of following the stricter guidelines, including designing menu items that students will eat.
In addition to instituting policies that will keep students from feeling embarrassed if they don’t have money to cover their lunches, complying with the nutrition guidelines in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act has presented some of the biggest challenges facing school nutrition programs in recent years.
After the 2010 law passed, reports of students throwing away more food increased. Sarah Irvine Belson, an associate professor of education at American University in Washington who has conducted “plate waste” research, urges schools to give students input into menu planning and to incorporate more nutrition activities into the classroom.
Some schools and districts have also tried to make over their food service programs through partnerships with farmers, gardens, chefs and entrepreneurs. In Boston, for example, schools are experimenting with giving school cafeterias more of a casual restaurant feel, such as at Chipotle and Sweetgreen. A Harvard University Study also shows that children are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables when they can interact with a formally trained chef. School nutrition managers, however, caution that such programs require outside investors and are difficult to pull off with a traditional school lunch business model.
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