U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem: Concerns over school lunch rules continue to grow

U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem: Concerns over school lunch rules continue to grow

Source: Office of U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem

U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem (South Dakota) expressed continued concern October 16 after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released an updated study showing National School Lunch Program participation declined by 1.4 million children — or 4.5 percent — between the 2010-11 school year and the 2013-14 school year.  The nonpartisan agency also reported that “new federal nutrition requirements contributed to the decrease.”

“My husband and I work hard to make sure healthy food goes on our kids’ plates at home, but we understand that if it doesn’t taste good, our kids aren’t going to eat it. I think that’s something most parents have experienced,” said Noem. “This report once again shows that if families can afford it, more and more are sending their kids to school with a sack lunch, but if finances are tight, kids are forced to stay in the program. I remain very concerned that the new regulations scheduled to take effect in the coming years will only make this phenomena worse.”

The new GAO report, which was an update to a study requested by Noem and Education and Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline, shows a continued decline in school meal program participation since the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act took effect in 2010. Prior to the 2010-11 school year, participation in the program had been increasing steadily for many years. Click here to view a copy of the full report.

“We want our kids to be served healthy and nutritious foods through the school lunch program, but the issue comes when federal mandates override local decisions by school boards and administrators,” said Neil Putnam, a member of the Mitchell School Board and the Western Region Director for the National School Board Association. “We need to give school districts the flexibility to make decisions at the local level that support our students’ overall success and ensure financial resources are not being taken away from instruction.”

Noem has been vocal about her opposition to the new regulations. While she agrees we must do all we can to make sure kids are healthy, Noem opposes the one-size-fits-all solution that can leave kids feeling hungry and impose increased costs on local school districts.

In March 2015, Noem introduced the Reducing Federal Mandates on School Lunch Act, which would:

  • Allow schools to maintain the previous whole grain requirements. Without this change, 100 percent of the grains that schools are required to serve students would be whole-grain rich, pushing items like tortillas and pasta largely off the menu. Noem’s bill would restore the requirement back to 50 percent, meaning at least half of the grains served would be required to be whole-grain rich.
  • Maintain Target 1 sodium requirements. Absent a change, schools would have a difficult time serving healthy foods that include milk, cheese, meat and other foods with naturally occurring sodium.
  • Give administrators flexibility on some of the rules that have increased costs for school districts, including the school breakfast program, a la carte options, and school lunch price increases.
  • Make the USDA’s easing of the meat and grain requirements permanent through law, rather than regulations. This would give certainty to schools that they’ll be allowed more flexibility in serving meats and grains while still staying within calorie maximums.

Noem introduced similar legislation in the 113th Congress as well.  The bill has been endorsed by the National School Board Association and the School Superintendents Association.

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