- The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced late last week that it would roll back Obama-era school lunch regulations that set standards for grains, flavored milks and sodium content in the foods on cafeteria menus. The changes will impact schools that qualify for some level of federal reimbursement, The New York Times reports.
- The former nutrition standards said grain-rich items, like pizza or bread, had to be at least 50% whole grains, but under the Trump rules, only half of what's served in cafeterias have to be "whole grain-rich." The Trump administration also said schools can serve low-fat milk options rather than just non-fat milk, and schools have to continue working to lower sodium content in cafeteria items — just not as much as they had to before.
- In its explanation, the Trump administration said schools were having a hard time finding options that not only met the Obama-era requirements, but were also appealing to students. All of the changes will take effect by July.
Schools across the country have students who aren't eating enough because their families don't have enough money, and this lack of food affects their well-being outside the classroom as well as their academic performance. Students can't concentrate on what they're supposed to be learning when they don't have enough fuel in their bodies to keep them awake and alert. And studies have shown that giving free lunches to kids who need it not only helps promote better health, but also reduces out-of-school suspensions, which goes hand-in-hand with better behavior.
At its foundation, making sure students are fed is important, but the quality of these meals matters, too. That's what former First Lady Michelle Obama was advocating for when she worked to advance laws mandating certain nutritional requirements in schools. Whole grains, for one, are less processed than refined grains, and they have more nutrients while also keeping you feeling full for longer. Compared to non-fat milk options, low-fat flavored milk not only has more fat, but also more sugar and calories. And lowering sodium intake, health experts say, is crucial for students: It prevents high blood pressure, disease and obesity.
In rolling back the previous administration's rules, the Trump administration said the guidelines were too expensive and were generating complaints from students who didn't like what was served. Research showed that these meals not only improved the nutritional value of cafeteria options that used to be filled with unhealthy, processed foods, but they also weren't met with significant changes in meal participation data.
Getting healthy and satisfying school lunches is only one piece of the puzzle. Other elements of the school experience, such as recess and physical education (PE) classes, work to emphasize being active, spending time outdoors and exercising a healthy mindset — all of which are necessary to promote overall health and well-being. But some schools have continued to roll back PE and recess, leaving students with a lack of necessary exercise that prevents obesity.
By establishing a commitment to promoting student health that encompasses the whole child, administrators can use tools like nutritious school lunch options and recess time to equip students with the positive habits they need to succeed and lead active, healthy lifestyles in the long run.