USDA Delays Whole Grain Requirement For School Lunches

Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a two-year delay to a rule that would force schools to provide whole grain-rich products, citing difficulty in mass producing certain food items in school cafeterias.

Schools were to be required to provide the whole grain-rich products — which are more than 50 percent whole grain — this year in an effort to make school meals healthier.

First lady Michelle Obama has pushed for an increase in whole grain-rich products in school meals as part of her Let’s Move! anti-obesity campaign. Obama hosted a private conference call Monday in which she stated her opposition to efforts to slow down the changes to school lunches.

The USDA’s decision is a response to feedback the agency received from educators, who have said that whole grain-rich pastas are not holding up well under mass production.

“Schools raised legitimate concerns that acceptable whole-grain rich pasta products were not available,” said Kevin Concannon, USDA undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, in a statement. “We worked to find a solution which will allow more time for industry to develop products that will work for schools.”

Lasagna and elbow pastas were especially difficult to cook in large quantities, the USDA noted in its press release.

Schools will be allowed to use traditionally enriched pastas for the next two years if they demonstrate “significant challenges” in serving the wheat pastas.

The whole grain-rich product requirements for school meals was a response to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The guidelines were based on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, which suggests that meals lower in sodium and higher in whole grains are healthier than traditional school meals.

In its statement, the USDA noted that it has relaxed standards on school nutrition in the past. The agency allowed schools permanent flexibility for portion sizes for grains and meats. It also moved away from forcing immediate changes to its nutrition rules, allowing them to be implemented gradually.

The push for more whole grain-rich foods has faced opposition from politicians, special interest groups and schoolchildren. Many kids have rejected healthier foods such as the whole grain-rich products, fruits and vegetables, leading to higher food waste costs.

GOP lawmakers and industry groups have pushed for delays in the school menu requirements. On Monday, Republican lawmakers proposed a bill that would have allowed schools that were losing money due to new school meal requirements to opt out of the program.

The School Nutrition Association has also pushed for delays to many school nutrition changes, citing declining revenue and increased costs. In the 2012-2013 school year, almost half of schools experienced lower revenues for their school meal programs, while 90 percent saw food costs increase, the Associated Press reported.

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