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Some Colorado School Districts Say Relaxed Lunch Standards Change Nothing

U.S. Department of Agriculture

Newly minted U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue marked his first day on the job this week by relaxing school nutrition standards that had been implemented under the Obama administration. The change offers “regulatory flexibility” when it comes to whole grains, sodium and milk. But many food service departments along the Front Range say this changes nothing, and that the older, more stringent nutritional standards will remain in place in their kitchens.

Perdue’s announcement doesn’t mark many drastic changes:

  • Schools may request hardship waivers to the 100% whole grains requirement.
  • The USDA will not make schools comply with lower sodium requirements that were slated to go into effect on June 1. The so-called sodium “targets” went into effect in 2014 and were meant to gradually decrease sodium levels among different age groups by 2022.
  • One percent flavored milk may now be served in schools, instead of skim as was previously required.

Most of these requirements were originally enshrined in the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which went into effect in 2012. Perdue’s order effectively stalls the gradual implementation of the nutrition standards.
For Front Range schools, Perdue’s “regulatory flexibility” changes little -- at least two major school districts say they will continue adhering to the higher standards.

“We would never consider going back on the guidelines,” says Ann Cooper, director of food services at Boulder Valley School District. “We’ve gotten so far, and I think what’s really unfortunate about what Secretary Perdue did is that over 90 percent of all the school districts in the country are meeting or exceeding the guidelines.”

Danielle Bock, director of nutrition services for the Greeley-Evans 6 School District, also says not much will change on her watch.

“With the Health, Hunger-Free Kids Act, we were able to provide our students with fresh fruits and vegetables, and we don’t see that as a bad thing,” she says. “What we really need to be focusing on is whole, fresh, nutritious foods.”

The announcement does signal that more changes are on the way down the road, potentially referring to HR 610 - a bill filed by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that would effectively create a nationwide school voucher system, as well as repeal the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Since the bill was introduced in January, it’s seen little legislative movement and is unlikely to go anywhere.

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