USDA proposes changes that could impact school meal services

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LEBANON, Ind.-- The USDA has proposed new rules that may impact your child's breakfast and lunch options at school. They hope it will simplify meal requirements for their national programs.

Some school nutrition experts are for it, while health organizations oppose the plan.

“I think creating a menu now is very challenging,” said Jennifer Rice, the director of food service for the Lebanon Community School Corporation.

In Rice’s 23-year career, school lunches have changed drastically. She’s on board with USDA’s proposal to make more changes in her cafeteria.

“I think they’re good changes,” Rice added.

According to the USDA, there are five major challenges that they hope to fix, including streamlining administrative review requirements based on past performance. The USDA would like to increase flexibility in the vegetable subgroups requirements and support a more customized breakfast program.  They would also like to provide more options for schools in age/grade groups for meal patters and allow schools to offer a la carte options.

“The sodium has been a big one for us, the reduce in sodium. I think we needed to reduce it, but I think we went a little too far with it,” said Rice. “The cost, definitely, to eat healthy is more expensive and the waste has been a big issue for us. We see a lot more go into the trash, because they have to take so much more.”

The USDA is also suggesting to adjust the fruit servings to reduce waste.

“We require two to three cups. Students will probably get maybe a half a cup,” said Danielle Patterson with the American Heart Association.

According to a press release, the American Heart Association says the proposed ruling would be detrimental to children’s health:

“Healthy school meals help combat childhood obesity and poor cardiovascular health, but they also help establish a foundation for a lifetime of healthy behaviors. Healthy school foods also help children perform better in school and set them up for success.”

“We have a number of students that live in food deserts, that are food insecure, they’re not getting the proper nutrition at home,” Patterson added.

The American Heart Association believes that would allow schools to meet the standards by serving meat and no grain for breakfast, while also serving more potatoes and starchy vegetables.

“Since they get 50% of their daily calories at school, that these meals should be healthy,” said Patterson.

Although not all are on board with USDA’s proposal, everyone can agree they want what’s best for child nutrition.

“We have to help them, we have to educate them about eating properly,” said Patterson.

“The kids are going to eat. They eat nutritious every day and the kids should enjoy their school lunch,” said Rice.

In a statement from USDA:

"Schools continue to tell us more common sense flexibility is needed to provide students nutritious and appetizing meals. Local schools are in the best position to make decisions about the children they serve, and these changes further empower them with the flexibility to tailor operations to the needs of their community. We look forward to receiving comments on the proposal."

The USDA is inviting people to submit written comments over the proposed ruling. The comment period ends on March 23.  Click here to voice your opinion.

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