Congress Tries to Ease Whole Grain Standards for School Lunches


Congress is trying to give schools a break from First Lady Michelle Obama's healthy lunch program.

While a massive year-end spending bill won't allow schools to opt out of the standards that require healthy school meal options, it will ease the set of standards that put a requirement on the amount of whole grains included in school foods.

In addition, the bill will take out rules concerning the level of salt included in school meals, a measure that was set to go into effect in 2017.

School nutrition directors across the nation have lobbied for a break from the standards since their inception in 2012 due to issues with cost and restrictiveness. In addition, they say that many children do not like the new meals.

As the discussion over the standards escalated over the summer, the first lady announced that she would fight "to the bitter end" to ensure schools promoted good nutrition.

Schools around the country continually complain about the whole grain standards, which they say are difficult to adhere to when preparing certain popular foods, such as pastas, biscuits and tortillas. Food service industries do not carry as many whole grain options for schools to choose from, and the ingredient can be difficult to work with, sometimes becoming mushy and difficult to cook properly.

The spending bill, which could become law by the end of the year, would allow schools to become exempt from the standard which requires all grain products to be mostly whole grain, so long as those schools can show that they are having a hard time finding and affording acceptable whole grain products. Even so, those schools would still need to follow previous guidelines that stated that half of all grain products used must be whole grains.

The language used in the bill is a compromise between the House's wishes to allow schools to opt out of the standards and a Senate provision requiring more research to be done on whole grains.

While the standards have been implemented in some schools without complaint, others are not faring so well. While schools have needed to meet requirements in order to obtain federal reimbursements for the free and reduced-price lunch program in the past, none have been as strict as the 2012 standards.

Earlier this year the Agricultural Department allowed schools to put the whole grain requirement off for two years, so long as those schools could demonstrate they have had "significant challenges" in pasta preparation.

Those who support the new standards believe they will become less of an issue in coming years as students become more used to the foods served and the food industry learns to make meals taste better, according to Tennille Tracy for The Washington Journal.

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