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Committee Republicans Urge Flexibility on School Lunch Requirements

House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN), Representative Kristi Noem (R-SD), and Representative Phil Roe, M.D. (R-TN) today urged U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack to reexamine the new meal pattern and nutrition requirements for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs.  

According to recent reports, the USDA’s new regulations have led to hungrier students, wasted food, and increased costs for schools:

  • Many high school students, athletes in particular, report hunger just a few hours after lunch thanks to the requirement that school lunches be a maximum of 850 calories. Freshman football player Hunter Wisheck from North Dakota told the Associated Press the smaller lunches aren’t enough to maintain his active lifestyle. As a result, he now avoids the lunch line and instead brings a meal from home. Other students across the country are staging protests and starting petitions against the low calorie requirement. 
  • Schools are struggling with increased waste as students are now forced to take a certain amount of food even if they don’t plan to eat it all. After implementing the new standards a year early, one Florida school district estimates students threw out $75,000 worth of food.
  • State and school officials say higher expenses, including an estimated $3.2 billion in compliance costs, will jeopardize their ability to provide affordable meals for students. The Washington Post reports some Maryland schools “could lose $1.16 for each free or reduced-price meal,” up more than 52 percent from last year, as a result of the new requirements.

Despite widespread complaints from students, schools, and parents, the committee members state the department has not taken significant action to improve the flawed policy:

We are disappointed USDA has refused to address these concerns and instead continues to push a one-size-fits-all policy that ties the hands of local school lunch providers. We urge you to provide state and local food service personnel with the flexibility to adjust the nutrition requirements, including changes to the calorie maximum, to ensure they are providing school meals that meet the needs of their diverse student body… As we celebrate National School Lunch Week, it is important to remember the national school lunch and breakfast programs help children in need succeed in school and beyond. We urge you to revisit USDA’s school meal pattern rule, which is resulting in dramatic reductions in the number of students eating school lunches and breakfasts, and instead help local communities meet the needs of a diverse student body.

In order to better evaluate the new standards, the committee members also ask USDA to provide more details about the implementation of the requirements and disclose any future studies to evaluate their effect on food waste and student nutrition. 

To read the full letter, click here.

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