Student Well-Being

Bill Would Ease School Lunch Requirements

By Evie Blad — December 05, 2013 1 min read
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Speaking of school lunches, U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem of South Dakota said Thursday she plans to introduce a bill called The Reducing Federal Mandates on School Lunch Act” that eases new federal school lunch standards created under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

According to a press release from Noem, a Republican, the legislation would:

  • “Make the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s temporary easing of the meat and grain requirements permanent, allowing schools more flexibility in serving meats and grains while still staying within calorie maximums”
  • “Give administrators flexibility on some of the rules that have increased costs for school districts”

The “temporary easing” Noem’s press release refers to occurred after districts complained that limits on protein and grain included in the new lunch standards were difficult to implement, Rules for Engagement reported last year.

The rules, which the U.S. Department of Agriculture was authorized to write thanks to 2010's Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, limited schools' ability to serve as much of what they wanted. For example, elementary schools that wanted to serve sandwiches every day could not because they would exceed caps on how many servings of grains students may have per week. Serving cheeseburgers every day would also be problematic because the cheese, a meat alternative and a source of protein, could lead schools to exceed caps, too."

The National School Boards Association praised Noem’s proposal on its website.

The Reducing Federal Mandates on School Lunch Act, sponsored by Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), to be introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives this week, offers relief to school districts on some of the federal mandates that have created soaring operational costs along with other unintended consequences, such as school lunches that leave students hungry in cases where serving sizes are inadequate or students do not like the food mandated and are refusing to eat it."

Supporters of the new standards, the first major shift in school lunch rules in nearly two decades, have said they expected some bumps in the road as districts work to change how they feed students. And the end goal of healthier, more balanced meals is worthy of a little bit of struggle, supporters have said.

Some district leaders have said that they want to offer the healthiest meals possible to their students, but also say it takes time to change established budgets and schedules for purchasing ingredients.

This is not the first congressional proposal to take aim at the standards. Similar bills have been filed by Rep. Steve King, an Iowa Republican; Rep. Steve Stivers, an Ohio Republican; and Rep. Rick Crawford, an Arkansas Republican.

This is my second post today about school lunch, so I should also mention this NPR piece that says many students only get about 10-15 minutes of table time to eat their school lunches.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that students get at least 20 minutes for lunch. But that means 20 minutes to actually sit down and eat—excluding time waiting in line or walking from class to cafeteria. At Oakland High, over 80 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. And officially, students get about 40 minutes for the meal. But Jennifer LeBarre, Oakland Unified School District's nutrition services director, admits that the actual table time is far shorter. At times it's just 10 minutes."

LeBarre goes on to say healthier lunches take more time to eat. “It’s going to take longer to eat a salad than it will to eat french fries,” she said.

It seems to me 10 minutes is a pretty short amount of time to eat anything.

PHOTO: Mediterranean Quinoa Salad/U.S. Department of Agriculture

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.