When the Trump Administration first proposed this rollback of healthier school lunch policies, it received tens of thousands of comments from parents, nutritionists, and public health groups against these changes. Despite the overwhelming volume, Secretary Perdue moved ahead.
School lunch has come a long way from mystery meat or “ketchup as a vegetable” decades ago. In 2010, the bipartisan-supported Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act updated school meal nutrition standards for the first time in 30 years. This update was critical to ensure kids’ meals get closer to the standards nutritionists recommend.
The 2010 law included:
-Phased-in reductions in sodium in 2014. 2017, and 2022.
-More whole-grain rich foods, meaning that items like bread need to be made of at least 50% whole grains.
-Less saturated fat in items like milk served to kids.
In addition to these standards, the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act encouraged schools to serve more fresh fruits and vegetables, including ways to let kids explore more types of these foods, like salad bars and “share tables” for younger kids.
But now, the Trump administration is poised to allow more salt, sugar, and processed foods into school meals, despite public opinion research showing parents and the public strongly support healthier school foods policies .
Recently speaking on behalf of the Trump administration, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue cited the need for “certainty and predictability” in federal guidelines as the primary reason they want to weaken, delay, and withdraw rules that have been in development since 2010. But that can’t be the real reason since, as of 2016, 98% of schools were meeting phased-in targets, serving healthier meals throughout the week and healthier stand-alone snacks like fruit instead of chips or high-sugar items .
His actions failed the 30 million children who depend on school meals . Because most children in U.S. public schools today qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch , school meals are sometimes the only reliable source of critical nutrition as their brains and bodies develop. This is why the American Academy of Pediatrics continues to strongly advocate for robust funding and strong nutrition standards that will set up children for long-term good health .
Finally, this rule change comes at an interesting time: the nation’s dietary guidelines, which provide a framework for child nutrition standards, are set to be reviewed and the Trump administration has yet to name the committee that will deliberate; the administration is talking with low-carb lobbyists (like Atkins Nutritionals) and considering their recommendations in the guidelines or even adding them to the committee; and, the 2010 child nutrition law is overdue to be renewed by Congress. Since the 2018 Farm Bill is behind us, lawmakers are likely to turn their attention to child nutrition. This legislation allows them to revisit nutrition standards for school meals, snacks, and the food served in daycares along with the regulations and paperwork that determine how children from low-income families qualify and sign up for school meals.
It will be crucial for everyone who cares about the health of kids across the country to speak up when they debate this law!