Friday, January 17, marked former First Lady Michelle Obama’s 56th birthday.
It was also the day that the US Department of Agriculture announced new rules regarding school lunches – rules that would roll back Obama’s signature policies promoting healthy lunches.
The timing, the USDA told The New York Times, was unintentional.
Among Obama’s portfolio of policy initiatives as first lady were those meant to curb childhood obesity and promote a healthy lifestyle. “Let’s Move!” promoted exercise, and she advocated for the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which passed in 2010.
The law “authorized funding and set policy for USDA’s core child nutrition programs,” according to the USDA. One of these was the National School Lunch Program, which feeds roughly 30 million children in the United States.
It set higher nutrition standards, encouraged more fruits and vegetables, and reduced sodium, saturated fat and trans fat intake.
The new, Trump-era rules are aimed at reducing food waste, the USDA said in a press release. The proposal would make “it easier for schools to offer school lunch entrees for a la carte purchase,” allow “schools adjust fruit servings and making it simpler to offer meats/meat alternates,” and would allow schools to “offer more vegetable varieties.”
“Schools and school districts continue to tell us that there is still too much food waste and that more common-sense flexibility is needed to provide students nutritious and appetizing meals. We listened and now we’re getting to work,” said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a statement.
Critics of the new proposals say that food waste was an issue before Michelle Obama’s healthy initiative.The Times reports that some also worry the the vegetable rule change will allow schools to purchase cheaper, less healthy vegetables.
The a la carte rule has also prompted concern. Colin Schwartz, deputy director of legislative affairs for Center for Science in the Public Interest, told The Post that the new rule could pave “the way for children to choose pizza, burgers, french fries and other foods high in calories, saturated fat or sodium in place of balanced school meals every day.”
Supporters of the rule change include food producers, some school districts, and the School Nutrition Association, a trade group representing school food-service workers and food manufacturers.
This is not the first time that the USDA under the Trump administration has proposed new rule that alter provisions from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
A 2018 rule loosened school nutrition standards: it allows for flavored milk, lowers the required amount of whole grains served, and extends the timeline for reducing sodium.
The rules proposed Friday will be formalized on January 23, and have a 60-day public comment period.