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USDA loosens milk, whole grain, sodium regs in new ruling

Low-fat flavored milk is now an option, Target 1 limits will satisfy sodium requirements in 2018-19 and states will be allowed to grant hardship exceptions on whole grain compliance.

The USDA today published new School Meal Flexibility Rule that makes targeted changes to standards for meals provided under USDA’s National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. Among the major changes in the interim final rule are…

  • granting the option to schools as well as Special Milk Program and Child and Adult Care Food Program operators serving children ages 6 and older to serve low-fat (1 percent) flavored milk in addition to the currently permitted non-fat flavored milk and low-fat or non-fat unflavored milk;
  • allowing schools that meet the current “Target 1” limit on sodium levels in their school meals to be considered compliant with USDA’s sodium requirements for the 2018-19 school year; and
  • allowing states to grant exemptions to schools experiencing hardship in obtaining whole grain-rich products acceptable to students during the 2018-19 school year.

In a statement accompanying the announcement of the rule’s publication, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said it reflects USDA’s commitment, made in a May proclamation, to work with program operators, school nutrition professionals, industry and other stakeholders to develop forward-thinking strategies to ensure school nutrition standards are both healthful and practical.

“Schools need flexibility in menu planning so they can serve nutritious and appealing meals,” Perdue said. “Based on the feedback we’ve gotten from students, schools, and food service professionals in local schools across America, it’s clear that many still face challenges incorporating some of the meal pattern requirements. Schools want to offer food that students actually want to eat. It doesn’t do any good to serve nutritious meals if they wind up in the trash can. These flexibilities give schools the local control they need to provide nutritious meals that school children find appetizing.”

The action reflects a key component of USDA’s Regulatory Reform Agenda, which was developed in response to President Donald Trump’s executive order to reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens, USDA’s release noted.

In announcing the changes, Perdue took care to praise the efforts of school food professionals to serve healthful, appealing meals and underscored USDA’s commitment to helping them overcome remaining challenges they face in meeting the nutrition standards.

“We salute the efforts of America’s school food professionals,” Perdue said. “And we will continue to support them as they work to run successful school meals programs and feed our nation’s children.”

USDA will accept public comments on the interim final rule via to inform it in its development of a final rule, which will address the availability of these three flexibilities in the long term. Meanwhile, the interim rule will be in effect for School Year 2018-19.

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