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OUR VIEW: Noem takes right approach with school lunch

We’ve criticized Kristi Noem in the past for being too extreme on some issues.

Today we’re praising the Republican South Dakota congresswoman for striking a moderate tone on the topic of child nutrition.

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As anybody with schoolchildren knows, new federal school lunch standards that took effect in 2012 caused quite a stir. The goal was getting kids to eat healthier, but there were immediate and widespread complaints. Some kids weren’t getting enough to eat. The amount of lunchtime waste increased because some kids refused to eat the newer, healthier foods.

We’ve been hesitant to criticize the new standards, because we recognize that they were adopted with the best of intentions. And we’ve long editorialized about the need for action to reverse rising rates of childhood obesity. But we also recognize the problems that have come along with the new rules.

Noem is now advocating an approach that could be a good middle way. We say that with caution, since we have not yet been able to find a copy of her legislation.

Noem announced her legislation last week and is saying all the right things so far. She’s been prone to politicizing other issues and rushing to place blame at the feet of the opposing party and its president. We don’t think that’s a good way to get things done, especially when support is needed from across the aisle. On this issue, at least lately, she’s set politics aside in the statements issued by her office and has focused on what’s best for children, families and school districts.

An example is this comment, from Noem’s weekly column issued Monday: “Like many of you, making sure our kids are healthy is one of my top priorities. Childhood obesity is a growing crisis across the country and South Dakota has one of the highest childhood obesity rates in the country. But overburdensome regulations aren’t the right way to buck the trend.”

Noem’s Reducing Federal Mandates on School Lunch Act would, according to her, make the USDA’s temporary easing of meat and grain requirements in school lunches permanent, allowing schools more flexibility in serving meats and grains while still staying within calorie maximums. It would also give administrators, Noem said in a recent statement, “flexibility on some of the rules that have increased costs for school districts.”

That last bit is pretty vague, and again, we caution that we have not seen the legislation, and we hope the bill does not go too far in rolling back the progress made toward healthier school lunches. And it’s important to note that the legislation is only in its introductory phase and has a long way to go.

So far, though, it sounds like exactly the kind of sensible, non-politicized problem-solving that so many of us wish would happen more often in Congress.