House Republicans are hard at work this month in their efforts to give schools a break from the healthy school meal standards currently in place – at least for a little while.
The rules, which were implemented in 2012 through the efforts of first lady Michelle Obama, require schools to offer more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains at lunchtime. In addition, the standards set a limit on the amount of sodium, sugar and fat that can be included in meal options.
School nutrition directors across the country are asking for a break from the rules, which they say are costly and restrictive. House Republicans, who believe the rules to be an overreach, are responding by pushing a one-year waiver that would allow schools the option of not participating in the program if they have lost money due to the program over a six-month period.
However, the waiver was stalled over the summer by the first lady, who continued to lobby against it, in addition to the White House, which issued a veto threat.
Discussions concerning the waiver have returned this month as it is expected that lawmakers will pass a catchall spending bill to ensure the continued running of government programs. There has been a recent push by Republican Rep. Robert Aderholt of Alabama, the chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees the school meal spending, to include the waiver.
Recently, the waiver made it onto a list of a few “very destructive riders” that Democrats would not find acceptable, written by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
The White House has expressed its feelings over school meals policy, which is one of the first lady’s signature issues, by stating they are “deeply engaged” in the issue, naming it as a top priority for the administration.
“We’ll always look to be flexible where appropriate, but what we’re not going to do is undermine science and the health of kids in any way,” White House nutrition policy adviser Sam Kass said.
Mrs. Obama stated over the summer that she would fight “until the bitter end” to ensure healthy meals are offered in schools across the country.
While there are schools who have implemented the standards problem-free, others report a number of issues, including challenges concerning sodium limits and whole grain requirements, as well as the issue of children throwing away fruits and vegetables that they are required to take.
In a survey conducted by the School Nutrition Association of over 1,100 school lunch operators, discovered that more than half of schools are estimating program expenses will exceed revenue this year.
Those who support the standards say they will take time to implement. Children need time to get used to the new food, and the food industry will eventually learn how to make the new food taste more appealing.
The USDA has been flexible with school complaints, tossing standards concerning the maximum amount of protein and grains that could be served after students continued to report they were hungry. In addition, the USDA is allowing schools to put off a requirement asking that all pasta be whole-grain for two years, if the schools can show “significant challenges” in the preparation of the pasta.
The effort comes after a social media demonstration took place on Twitter, with students taking photos of their school lunches, containing tiny portions of unrecognizable foods. The sarcastic hashtag ‘ThanksMichelleObama’ accompanies the photos, with descriptions that read things like “prisoners eat better food.”