Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) last week said the U.S. Department of Agriculture has agreed to modify the new National School Lunch and Breakfast Program requirements in response to a bipartisan letter that Hoeven and Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) spearheaded in November requesting changes.
Hoeven and Pryor said the request was prompted by numerous correspondences from parents, school board members, superintendents, and other concerned community members expressing their frustration as the new rule is rolled out. The rule became effective in March and implementation began this fall with the new school year.
In response to the senators’ request, the USDA informed Hoeven in a letter late Friday that it has lifted its strict limitations on caloric intake of grains and starches, as well as protein, which will lend significantly more flexibility to schools and students, especially athletes. These changes are in place only for the 2012-2013 school year.
All schools across the country that participate in the federal school meals program will receive notice of this new change in the rules over the next few days.
Hoeven and Pryor had said they were concerned about strict calorie limits, protein sufficiency, increased costs and lack of flexibility to adapt the program to the individual needs of some students. The senators said the new rule adopted a one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition, leaving some students hungry and some school districts frustrated with the additional expense, paperwork and nutritional research necessary to meet federal requirements.
The rule had appeared to pose problems, they said, especially for students in low income families, students in athletics programs or students in school districts with limited operating budgets. Moreover, they said it may be difficult for all students to get adequate protein to feel full throughout the school day. Protein is an important nutrient for growing children.
“I’m grateful to Secretary Vilsack for recognizing that the rules need to allow for individual differences among children and the prerogatives of local school districts, and resources available to them,” Hoeven said. “While we welcome this news from USDA, we believe the new flexibility should be permanent, rather than for just the 2012-2013 school year, and we will continue to press that case.”
Other senators who signed on to the letter include: Sens. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), John Tester (D-Mont.), John Thune (R-S.D.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Jerry Moran (R-Kans.) and Dan Coates (R-Ind.) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.).