Lunchroom bosses across the nation are getting a bit more flexibility in what they serve under a new federal rule unveiled Wednesday amid criticism that easing restrictions means less healthy young Americans.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue cited President Trump's February executive order to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens in announcing the interim rule, effective for the 2018-2019 school year.
“Schools need flexibility in menu planning,” Perdue said, adding they "want to offer food that students actually want to eat. It doesn’t do any good to serve nutritious meals if they wind up in the trash can."
Wednesday's announcement involves easing rules for milk, whole grains and sodium. Rachna Govani, co-founder of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Foodstand, cites research by the American Heart Association indicating a deficit of whole grains and an excess of salt are two of the largest contributors to premature cardiovascular death.
"While it's true that kids need to eat, claiming that kids won't eat the healthier meals isn't a good excuse not to serve them," Govani told USA TODAY. "By providing unhealthy food for our children we train their taste buds to prefer high fat, high salt, high sugar foods. We need to retrain our children's taste buds."
School lunch menus have been contentious as long as there have been schools. In the early 1980s, the Reagan administration famously considered passing off ketchup as a vegetable in an effort to meet nutritional requirements.
More recently, in 2011 there was an uproar when Democrats accused Republicans of trying to classify pizza as a vegetable. Actually, the issue was whether two tablespoons of tomato paste would count or if a half cup of the stuff was required.
The interim final rule published Wednesday means lunchrooms won't be required to further restrict sodium levels as planned for the 2018-2019 school year. States will also be allowed to grant exemptions to schools experiencing hardship in obtaining whole grain-rich products for 2018-2019.
Govani says a diet rich in whole grains are crucial for prevention of diabetes and obesity.
"Sacrificing our children's health is not an option," she said.