Washington, D.C. - Rep. Kristi Noem on Tuesday announced plans for legislation that reduces federal mandates on school meal standards, including the more stringent whole grain requirements that went into effect in July 2014 and the Target 2 sodium requirements set to be implemented in the coming years.
"Current school lunch standards create a one-size-fits-all model that doesn't work for our kids and places costly and senseless burdens on school districts - especially smaller school districts," Noem said. "We all want our kids to be healthier, but we need to give our schools flexibility at the local level to ensure the standards work for the students it's intended to serve. As a mom, I want to make sure the school meal program my kids participate in is rooted in science-based nutrition plans and includes food that they're actually going to eat. After all, my kids don't get the nutrients if it's left on the plate."
Rep. Noem introduced her initial Reducing Federal Mandates on School Lunch Act in December 2013. This updated version of the bill includes new provisions to address concerns with the Target 2 sodium levels and whole grain requirements.
"It's essential that kids get nutritious and filling meals while at school, but new standards have taken a step too far, resulting in many students choosing unhealthy alternatives outside the school lunch program," said Sandi Kramer, child nutrition director of the Yankton School District in South Dakota. "We are proud to support Rep. Noem's Reducing Federal Mandates on School Lunch Act. As a mother whose kids go to school in a very small school district, she understands the challenges schools will face in serving healthy and appetizing options to students under these new requirements. With her bill, nutrition remains a priority, but it's done in a way that's going to work in the real world."
The Reducing Federal Mandates on School Lunch Act will be introduced in the coming weeks. The legislation would:
• Allow schools to maintain the previous whole grain requirements. Without this change, 100 percent of the grains that schools would be required to serve students would be whole-grain rich, pushing items like tortillas and pasta largely off the menu. Rep. Noem's bill would restore the requirement back to 50 percent, meaning half of the grains served would be required to be whole-grain rich.
• Maintain Target 1 sodium requirements. Absent a change, schools would have a difficult time serving healthy foods that include milk, cheese, meat and other foods with naturally occurring sodium.
• Give administrators flexibility on some of the rules that have increased costs for school districts, including the school breakfast program, a la carte options, and school lunch price increases.
• Make the USDA's easing of the meat and grain requirements permanent through law, rather than regulations. This would give certainty to schools that they'll be allowed more flexibility in serving meats and grains while still staying within calorie maximums.