Michelle Obama made it her mission during her 8 years in the White House to eradicate all taste from school lunches. Afterall, what kind of self-respecting liberal would she be if she allowed school districts and families all across the country to actually choose what food best suited their communities and children?
She even made inspiring videos like "Turnip For What!?", a clever play off Lil Jon's track (great role model for children, btw)...see what she did there?
Unfortunately, no amount of cutsie jingles or rap lyrics were sufficient to make the following school lunches appealing to young school kids...and we can't imagine why...
In fact, in the end, rather than eating a meal with slightly too much sodium, kids simply stopped eating lunch altogether. As the Washington Times pointed out back in 2014, over 1 million students stopped eating school lunch in the 2012-2013 school year alone. Meanwhile, schools all around the country reported they were buying food that just ended up getting thrown away or fed to pigs at local farms because no one would eat it.
The National School Lunch Program saw a sharp decline in participation once the healthy standards went into effect during the 2012-2013 school year. A total of 1,086,000 students stopped buying school lunch, after participation had increased steadily for nearly a decade.
The report found that 321 districts left the National School Lunch Program altogether, many of which cited the new standards as a factor.
The decline was “influenced by changes made to comply with the new lunch content and nutrition standards,” state and local officials said.
But, in one of his first actions as Agriculture Secretary, Sonny Perdue took steps today to reintroduce some common sense into school lunches noting that "If kids aren't eating the food, and it’s ending up in the trash, they aren't getting any nutrition – thus undermining the intent of the program."
Per The Hill, in an interim final rule, aimed at giving schools more flexibility, Perdue and his department are postponing further sodium reductions for at least three years and allowing schools to serve non-whole grain rich products occasionally as well as 1 percent flavored milk.
The rule allows states to exempt schools in the 2017-2018 school year from having to replace all their grains with whole-grain rich products if they are having a hard time meeting the standard.
Sodium levels in school lunches now must average less than 1,230 milligrams in elementary schools; 1,360 mg in middle schools; and 1,420 mg in high school.
Before Perdue’s rule, schools were expected to reduce sodium even further to average less than 935 milligrams in elementary schools, 1035 milligrams in middle school lunches and 1,080 in high school lunches by the week by July 1, 2017.
Further reductions were set to take effect by July 1, 2022.
Unsurprisingly, the School Nutrition Association and kids everywhere praised Perdue's efforts to Make School Lunches Great Again.
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.”
SNA claims less kids are buying lunch because they no longer like the food and schools are being forced to spend more money on lunches that largely end up in trash.
The former standards required all grains, including croutons and the breading on chicken patties, to be whole grain rich.
“School Nutrition Association is appreciative of Secretary Perdue's support of school meal programs in providing flexibility to prepare and serve healthy meals that are appealing to students,” the group’s CEO Patricia Montague said in a statement.
“School nutrition professionals are committed to the students they serve and will continue working with USDA and the Secretary to strengthen and protect school meal programs.”
Of course, just like when Mayor Bloomberg's Big Gulp ban got overturned, it's unclear how/if families will be able to cope with returning to a world where they actually have to make their own decisions regarding sodium intake.