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School Lunch Discussion Makes A Comeback

Rep. Kristi Noem offers bill to reduce federal oversight on school lunches

Published on: Nov 26, 2013

More than a year after USDA's overhaul of national school lunch standards, outspoken opponent of federal lunch regulations Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., Monday released her plan to reduce federal mandates and add flexibility for school administrators.

Noem, who visited with high school students in Chester, S.D., Monday, said the bill would be formally introduced in the first week of December.

The revamped federal school lunch standards, introduced in January 2012 and implemented that August, caught plenty of heat from legislators, administrators and parents who said the standards did not provide the correct amount of nutrition for all students.

The regulations included different portion sizes for three age groups, which USDA said was based on average needs. Weekly minimum and maximum serving ranges were also introduced for meat and meat alternates, as were minimums for fruit and vegetable servings.

Rep. Kristi Noem offers bill to reduce federal oversight on school lunches
Rep. Kristi Noem offers bill to reduce federal oversight on school lunches

Some stakeholders, however, said the maximums were restrictive, leaving kids hungry. Others said school staff wasn't able to prepare additional servings of fruits and vegetables in a way that was palatable to students, leading to increased waste.

Such backlash resulted in a temporary lifting of the maximum amount of grains and meat or meat alternate, effective December, 2012.

USDA Secretary Vilsack said the change was in response to comments from schools and parents regarding the standards, and a complaint letter issued by Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

Echoing Hoeven's complaints, Noem previously took issue with the 850-calorie cap on school lunches, which she said wasn't enough to meet the needs of some students.

"As a mother of three, I know every kid has a different activity level and different nutrition needs, so forcing schools into a one-size-fits-all school lunch program doesn't work for our schools or our students," Noem said in a statement announcing the new bill. "Current school lunch standards place an unnecessary burden on school administrators, especially in some of our smaller school districts, our poorest counties and our reservations, and send many of our kids home feeling hungry."

The bill, "Reducing Federal Mandates on School Lunch Act," Noem said, gives flexibility to schools to help ensure kids get the nutrition they need to be healthy.

Though specifics on the bill are not yet available, it is supported by another school lunch critic, the National School Boards Association.

Broadly, the bill is expected to make the USDA's temporary easing of the meat and grain requirements permanent, allowing schools more flexibility in serving meats and grains while still staying within calorie maximums, and give administrators flexibility on some of the rules that have increased costs for school districts.

Read more on school lunch regulations:
GAO Review Calls For Modification of School Lunch Standards
Vilsack Announces Flexibility In School Lunch Program
Criticism of New USDA School Lunch Standards Continues
#AskUSDA Tackles New School Nutrition Requirements
Weighing In On School Lunches
Improvements to School Meals Announced