New federal guidelines put in place for school lunches

Local food groups and health professionals react
New federal guidelines put in place for school lunches

New guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture could be affecting your child’s school meals next year.

Under an interim final rule the USDA announced Wednesday, schools will be able to serve 1-percent, low-fat flavored milk in the 2018-2019 school year. Currently, they are only able to serve flavored milk without any fat, and low- and nonfat milk that is not flavored.

This change has Joanna Bisgrove, a family medicine doctor with SSM Health, shaking her head. She said the added sugar is never recommended for children’s health.

“Flavored milk has never been on the agenda recommended by any physician or any scientists that I can think of, or nutritionist, anywhere,” Bisgrove said.

The USDA said in the rule change that offering another variety of flavored milk could increase students’ milk consumption.

The American Heart Association has also publicly denounced the policy change. CEO Nancy Brown said, “This new rule deserves an ‘F.'”

The new rule will allow states to grant exemptions to schools to serve refined grains instead of whole-grain-rich products if the schools can demonstrate hardship.

Natasha Smith, the Farm-to-School director for REAP Food Group, said she doesn’t see the rule having a drastic change on Madison-area schools, but said it’s a step in the wrong direction.

“If we don’t expose the kids to the whole grain products when they’re young and get them used to eating them, well it stands to reason that they’re not going to choose those types of products when they’re a consumer, when they’re older,” Smith said. “So, in that sense, I think it’s unfortunate that it’s allowing some schools to opt out of offering healthier options to the students.”

In 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act into law, which created a tiered system for reducing sodium levels in school meals. Instead of further reducing sodium levels in the coming school year, the USDA’s new rule halts this change.

Tom McCarthy, the communications director for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, said he does not anticipate saltier foods being served in Wisconsin schools as a result of this rule change.

Feeding Wisconsin Executive Director David Lee sent News 3 the following statement regarding the int erim final rule:

“The Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act, passed in 2010, has helped to improve the health of millions of children across the nation by improving the nutrition standards of the school meals program and we do not believe that USDA should roll back these standards. Rather than rolling back these nutrition standards that help kids develop healthy eating habits that will last for a lifetime, we urge USDA to keep the rules and invest in empowering local school districts to better understand how to make these healthier options into more appealing and inspiring meals for their children.”

The interim rule will go into effect on July 1 for the 2018-2019 school year. The USDA will take written comments from the public before enacting a more permanent policy change.