National school lunch changes to make more flexible meals for st - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

National school lunch changes to make more flexible meals for students, parents

Horry County school lunch choices. Horry County school lunch choices.

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Changes to elementary, middle and high school lunches are coming nationwide. The Trump Administration is ready to unwind some of former First Lady Michelle Obama's school lunch rules after push back from school districts.  Horry County school leaders agree the former First Lady's lunch restrictions have become hard to meet for many schools.

"You want kids to eat a healthy lunch, you just can't get to a point where you force it on them and say you're going to eat this no matter what," Joe DeFeo, the Horry County School Board chairman, said.  He explained the problem with the Obama-backed 2012 school lunch reform is although it's a general goal to have more nutritious lunches, kids aren't getting any nutrition if they're not eating what's served to them.

Under Michelle Obama's nutrition restrictions, more fruits and vegetables were required, half of all breads and pastas were to be whole grain and eventually, 100 percent whole grain breads and pastas would be required.  Another change was to slowly phase in lower sodium levels.  Schools were expected to reduce sodium even further to average less than 935 milligrams in elementary schools, 1035 milligrams in middle schools and 1,080 in high school lunches by July 2017.  Further reductions were in place to begin July 2022.

However, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue halted those reductions this week with a more flexible school lunch plan under the Trump Administration.  Perdue is postponing further sodium reductions for three years and keeping the reductions where they're at now, as originally prescribed by Michelle Obama.  Those sodium levels in school lunches now must average less than 1,230 milligrams in elementary schools, 1,360 milligrams in middle schools and 1,420 milligrams in high schools.  

Secretary Perdue's new plan is to provide lunches kids will eat, while still being nutritious.  According to the political website, The Hill:

"The School Nutrition Association, which represents nutrition directors at schools across the country, was quick to praise Perdue. The group has been lobbying Congress for more flexibility in what the have called “overly prescriptive regulations.”

Schools across the country are being required to buy more expensive foods many students inevitably throw away, DeFeo said. He explained one of the biggest challenges for Horry County has been students on a fixed meal plan, with little ability to choose what they eat.

"What really ends up happening is the kids from middle class and everyone else has a choice, those that might not be able to buy their own lunch don't have a choice.  So we're actually squeezing out a hurting the people, in my opinion, or giving them less choices to those who do not have the money to just say 'I'll buy whatever lunch I want," DeFeo said.

If it was up to him, DeFeo explained he'd leave much of the lunch menu decisions up to the principals.  Part of the national argument has been the difference of food culture from state to state.  For example, southern children may be more used to grits, while those in northern regions are not.  Grits that meet the 'whole grains' category have brown specks in them, which many children will use as their reasoning of why they won't eat it.

Under the Trump Administration's plan, sodium levels will not be further reduced for three years, the current whole grain requirements will be kept and 1 percent chocolate milk will be offered.

In the end, Defeo said the new plan will save the government, school districts and parents money.

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