Senators offer bill to permanently lift cap on proteins, grains in school lunches

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, March 8, 2013 - A group of bipartisan senators recently introduced legislation (S. 427) that would permanently lift the cap on proteins and grains in the federal school meals program.

The Sensible School Lunch Act would require the Agriculture Department to permanently retract a portion of its final rule in relation to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, a 2010 law that set new standards for school meals.

“Our new legislation will give food preparers at our schools the flexibility to provide nutritious, satisfying meals for growing youngsters, and at the same time, address such important issues as childhood obesity and poor nutrition,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who introduced the bill on March 1. “This bill just applies common sense to the rules and makes sure that they're both effective and reasonable.”

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The rule attempted to curb obesity among youth by strictly limiting calories, protein and grains for all students without any flexibility to meet the needs of athletes or others whose dietary needs do not fit the guidelines, Hoeven said.

The new regulation created an uproar among many school administrators, school food service directors, parents and students. Critics also said the rule exceeded federal funding by an estimated $75 million a year, placing strains on school budgets.

The backlash prompted the USDA to retract the language first through the spring of 2013, and then through the spring of 2014.

Hoeven said a permanent solution for schools is needed, “instead of a piecemeal, year-by-year approach.”

The bill would allow for more flexible portions of proteins and grains in the federal school meals program, while leaving in place the rest of the regulation, including the total calorie cap and its emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and non-fat dairy selections.

The legislation was greeted by the School Nutrition Association (SNA).

“The weekly limits on grains and proteins served with school meals had the unintended consequence of restricting healthy menu items like daily sandwich choices and salads topped with chicken and low-fat cheese,” SNA President Sandra Ford said. “Under the bipartisan Sensible School Lunch Act, school meals would continue to meet calorie limits and include plenty of fruits and vegetables, but cafeterias will have flexibility to plan menus that meet student tastes and nutrition standards.”

The legislation was co-sponsored by Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., Mark Pryor, D-Ark., Jerry Moran, R-Kan., James Inhofe, R-Okla., John Thune, R-S.D., Dan Coats, R-Ind., Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Mary Landrieu, D-La.

The bill was referred to the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee.

Supporters expect a House companion bill will be introduced in the coming weeks.

Hoeven's press secretary Don Canton said, “We apparently have a lot of support in the House for our bill but don't know at this point who will carry it. We also don't know at this point when it will come up in committee.”

 

Updated March 8, 9:30 a.m.

 

Full text of the legislation can be found here.

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