Fresh fruits and vegetables are on the chopping block for the school lunch program once again.
Last Friday, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced a new proposal to lift restrictions on school lunches that would give what he called “common-sense flexibility” to school districts when they make school menus.
Perdue said the move would reduce food waste from items kids throw away, saying school districts have asked for more leeway in their menus.
The recent rollback marks the second assault on school lunch restrictions in the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the flagship initiative from former First Lady Michelle Obama.
As it happens, the rollback was announced on her birthday.
Claims of food waste were shot down in a U.S. Department of Agriculture study last year.
The research compared data from school years before and after the Obama school lunch rules, and found there was no significant increase in costs or food waste.
The research also found that after the program launched, students did consume more whole grains, greens and beans, as well as less sugar, solid fats and sodium.
Under current rules, high-energy, low-nutrition foods like pizza, hamburgers, french fries and cookies can appear on school menus one day of the week, but the menu has to meet the overall weekly restrictions on calories and saturated fat.
The new proposal would allow more of those items served a-la-carte throughout the week, a provision critics call a "junk food loophole."
Colin Schwartz, deputy director of legislative affairs for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in a statement that the new rules would reduce weekly requirements for orange and red vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes or butternut squash, which schools could replace with potato products such as french fries.
It would also lift requirements for fruit on breakfast trays, from one cup to half a cup. Pastries and granola bars would be allowed to make up the difference in calories.
The school lunch program gives a nutrition boost to kids from low-income families.
Children who rely on school meals get up to 40 percent of their daily intake of vegetables from the lunch tray.
Attorneys general from seven states and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit in April last year against the previous round of rollbacks, saying the changes lacked any basis in nutritional research, and passed without input from the public.
Trump Rolls Back Michelle Obama’s School Lunch Nutrition Rules (Bloomberg)
The Trump Administration’s Defense Of Its School Lunch Overhaul Is A Big Nothingburger (Mother Jones)
The Trump Administration Wants To Weaken Obama’s Healthy School Lunch Rules. Again. (Vox)