WASHINGTON, Jan. 2, 2014 – School lunch ladies have a bit more room for creativity, after USDA announced today it will make permanent what had been temporary guidelines for meals served under the National School Lunch Program.

The original rules, developed under the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, had drawn criticism from schools, food providers, state governments and lawmakers who complained it was difficult and costly to keep children full throughout the day under USDA’s maximum grain and meat allotments.

More flexible guidelines were issued in December 2012 and today the USDA made them permanent in a final rule. Those guidelines, introduced four months into the law’s implementation, temporarily allowed school food providers to ignore previous maximum limits on grains and meat portions while requiring them to adhere to minimum limits.

In today’s final ruling, the agency said meals should remain within recommendations for total calories: 550-650 calories for kindergarten through grade five; 650-700 calories for grades six through eight; and 750-850 calories for grades nine through 12.

"Earlier this school year, USDA made a commitment to school nutrition professionals that we would make the meat and grain flexibility permanent and provide needed stability for long-term planning,” said Agriculture Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon. “We have delivered on that promise.”

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., applauded the department for making “much-needed administrative changes that will give our school districts the permanent flexibility they need to keep our kids healthy and successful.”  He said in a statement that the original guidelines were too strict.

About 31.6 million children received lunch through the National School Lunch Program in fiscal 2012.

This story was updated at 4:46 pm.


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