Three U.S. Representatives last week submitted a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack urging him to revisit the recently implemented school lunch requirements.
U.S. Reps. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., John Kline, R-Minn., and Phil Roe, R-Tenn., said the 850-calorie cap is leaving students hungry and increasing food waste. The letter is the second Rep. Noem has sent to Secretary Vilsack.
New requirements, including the calorie cap, took effect at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year this August, eight months after they were approved. USDA received more than 132,000 public comments on the proposed changes.
USDA estimates the new standards will cost $3.2 billion over the next five years.
Though the new standards included a 6 cent funding increase per meal, the Reps. say new requirements are causing increases in the costs of administering school lunches, on top of the calorie caps.
"We are disappointed USDA has refused to address these concerns and instead continues to push a one-size-fits-all policy that ties the hands of local school lunch providers. We urge you to provide state and local food service personnel with the flexibility to adjust the nutrition requirements, including changes to the calorie maximum, to ensure they are providing school meals that meet the needs of their diverse student body," the Reps. wrote.
Their letter focused on specific concerns they had about the new rules, including food waste. They said the rules require students to take more vegetables and fruits, "rather than simply offer them."
"This is a waste of federal, state, and local funds and is contrary to the law’s goal of feeding as many low-income and hungry children as possible," the Reps. letter said. "Students should not have to take additional food if they have no intention of eating it."
The Reps. asked the USDA in their letter to address four specific concerns: guidance to schools for meeting diverse calorie requirements; studies to evaluate food waste; reducing cost of implementation; and evaluate the rule's effects on breakfast.
In an August #AskUSDA twitter chat, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food, nutrition and Consumer Services Janey Thorton said in the responses USDA had received following the introduction of the new requirements, there had not been an increase in foods being thrown away.
Also in the chat, Thornton said the program was not a one-size-fits-all.
"New requirements have 3 age groups with different portion sizes for each based on avg needs," she wrote via Twitter. Thonton also wrote that USDA would be continuing to monitor implementation of school meals.