Eating And Health

Let Them Eat Sandwiches: USDA Eases School Lunch Restrictions

Students pick up their lunch at Barre Town Elementary School on Sept. 3, 2013 in Barre Town, Vt.

Students pick up their lunch at Barre Town Elementary School on Sept. 3, 2013 in Barre Town, Vt. Toby Talbot/AP Photo hide caption

itoggle caption Toby Talbot/AP Photo

After the the school lunch program was overhauled in 2012 to curb childhood obesity, lots of kids began complaining that lunches were too skimpy.

Why? Because in some cases, schools had to limit healthy foods — such as sandwiches served on whole-grain bread or salads topped with grilled chicken — due to restrictions the U.S. Department of Agriculture set on the amount of grains and protein that could be served at meal-time.

In some districts, program participation dropped as more kids decided to brown-bag it and bring their own food to school.

That led food service directors to lobby the USDA to reverse the limits on the amount of grains, such as bread and pasta, and proteins, such as lean meat and cheese.

The USDA temporarily lifted the restrictions following many complaints. And, now, according to a new rule announced this week, the change will be made permanent.

The School Nutrition Association, a group made up of school food directors, is applauding the decision. The group says the overly restrictive limits on grains and protein worked against them.

For instance, some schools could not offer daily sandwich selections because the two slices of bread exceeded weekly grain limits. And in some cases, salads topped with low-fat cheese or other sources of lean protein exceeded protein limits.

"School Nutrition Association members are pleased that USDA has provided this permanent fix, acknowledging the need for greater flexibility in planning well balanced school meals," wrote SNA president Leah Schmidt in a press release about the announcement.

USDA says most schools are following the meal standards that were put in place in 2012. And, as we've reported, this means that there are lots more fruits and vegetables being served up a lunch time.

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