- During a Monday visit to Catoctin Elementary School in Leesburg, VA, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that schools would get more nutritional flexibility around whole grains, sodium and milk, according to a release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
- The announcement cites USDA figures showing that stricter nutritional requirements had cost schools an extra $1.22 billion during FY2015, while also citing declines in revenue from lunches as a result of students skipping out on the healthier meals. As an example, Perdue mentioned whole grain grits that kids won't eat in Southern schools because they have "little black flakes" in them.
- Under the new guidance, schools will only have to meet compliance with Sodium Target 1 through 2020, with the USDA continuing to work with schools on developing meals "that are low in sodium and appealing to students." Schools can receive exemptions in providing 100% whole-grain products during 2017-18 if they're facing hardships; and schools will be able to serve 1% flavored milk under an interim rule while the regulatory process for doing so is underway.
Efforts to provide healthier school lunches gained a considerable boost under the Obama administration after being championed by former first lady Michelle Obama, but those efforts faced pushback from the beginning. Perhaps most discouraging were reports that students chose to throw out the fruits and vegetables required under those nutritional guidelines, or even choosing to forego purchasing the lunches all together.
While the increased attention to healthy food choices came at a time of increasing concern around childhood obesity rates, there was perhaps less attention given to the equally — and perhaps more important — trend of cuts in recess and physical education time. The food students eat is important, but it might not matter how healthy it is if they still remain largely sedentary throughout the day.