November 29, 2017

USDA Waters Downs Nutrition Standards with School Meal Flexibility Rule

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published today a new School Meal Flexibility Rule (Flexibility Rule) that will weaken nutrition standards aimed at reducing sodium and increasing whole grains for meals provided under the USDA’s National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. Additionally, schools will now have the discretion to serve 1 percent flavored milk, a move that unnecessarily allows more sugar and calories to be added to our children’s diets. The changes proposed by the Flexibility Rule do not reflect the tremendous progress and success we have seen from schools across the country in meeting or exceeding national guidelines for healthier school meals. 

Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program has worked with schools to implement healthier meals that meet federal nutrition standards required by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which were derived from the best scientific evidence of our children’s dietary needs. The success we’ve witnessed at the school level demonstrates that schools can serve nutritious and appealing meals while meeting the original timeline for meal pattern requirements. This success runs contrary to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue’s recent statement that “schools need flexibility in menu planning so they can serve nutritious and appealing meals.” Tens of thousands of schools are already doing just that – serving up nutritious and delicious meals.

Additionally, the data does not support the need for additional flexibility. The USDA’s 2016 press releaseindicated that 99 percent of schools nationwide reported meeting the existing nutrition standards. Further, the former Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project of The Pew Charitable Trusts found that near the end of the 2014-15 school year, 6 in 10 directors said they faced few or no ongoing obstacles to meeting updated school breakfast requirements. We have seen this data come to life through meals planned and served by schools across the country.    

Every child deserves a healthy future – now is not the time to reverse progress toward that reality. Instead of lowering standards, we need to provide additional training and resources to the minority of schools that have difficulty meeting sodium targets and whole grain requirements. Schools need our support to continue offering meals that keep kids healthy, an investment in our children’s health that will best prepare the next generation for success.

Howell Wechsler, EdD, MPH
Chief Executive Officer
Alliance for a Healthier Generation