Legislators Move To Retain School Meal Program Flexibility

Separate bills hope to make temporary changes to USDA school lunch programs permanent

Published on: Mar 22, 2013

Two groups of U.S. Representatives this week introduced separate but similar bills to address flexibility in the USDA's school lunch program as it relates to meat and protein portion caps.  

The legislators are calling for permanent changes to the school lunch program that remove minimum and maximum protein caps and retain only the minimum requirement. Legislators say the maximum requirement was too limiting, and that protein limits were not appropriate for all ages of children.

The minimum and maximum caps were initially adopted at the start of the school year in 2012, receiving much criticism from lawmakers and school stakeholders, who say the rules hold eighth graders and kindergarteners to the same standard by setting the same maximum limits for both groups. USDA Secretary Vilsack temporarily waived the max limits in December.

Separate bills hope to make temporary changes to USDA school lunch programs permanent
Separate bills hope to make temporary changes to USDA school lunch programs permanent

The School Nutrition Association was a strong opponent of some of the new regulations, noting that the caps restricted schools from offering many healthy items, sandwiches or prepared soups.

Sensible School Lunch Act

The Sensible School Lunch Act, introduced Tuesday, would allow more flexible portions of proteins and grains in the federal school meals program, while leaving in place the rest of the regulation, including the total calorie cap and its emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and non-fat dairy selections.

At the same time, the total calorie cap remains in place to ensure healthy meals in proportion, and allowable fruits are increased as compared to before, and vegetable servings are unlimited.

Republican Congressmen from Arkansas Rick Crawford, Tim Griffin, Steve Womack and Tom Cotton introduced the Sensible School Lunch Act in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the bill.

School Nutrition Flexibility

The School Nutrition Flexibility Act, released Wednesday, is a bipartisan bill that allows local school food authorities and local school boards to set the prices of school meals where the local programs "are being well-managed and operating in the black." The bill also makes permanent USDA's temporary waiver of the protein cap.

It is a companion to bipartisan legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senators John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark.

Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, who introduced the bill, said school meals are the building blocks to student success.

"Without these meals, millions of students would go hungry. We have listened to school officials and nutrition experts on how current regulations impact their ability to provide quality nutrition and have introduced legislation to address those concerns," Fudge said.

Her co-sponsor, Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, said the act "strikes the perfect balance between allowing school meal providers more options, while also preserving our overall goal for better nutrition for our children."

All three bills have the support of the School Nutrition Association.