Michelle Obama’s school lunch program faces new cuts on former first lady’s birthday

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Maya Earls
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The Trump administration has announced plans to cut back school lunch nutrition standards led by former first lady Michelle Obama.

The proposed rule announced Friday would increase “flexibility” for vegetable requirements and allow schools to change fruit servings during breakfast in favor of meats or meat alternatives, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA said the rules are “intended to help state and local program operators overcome challenges and deliver great meals more efficiently.”

The proposal takes a hit at one of Obama’s key achievements under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act as she celebrated her birthday Friday. The law, signed in 2010, set a minimum for fruit, vegetables and whole grain servings and set a maximum for sodium, sugar and fat content among other requirements.

Some schools faced challenges under the new requirements as the cost of lunches increased. One school district in North Carolina saw school lunches increase 55 cents between 2015-2018. Before the 2016-2017 school year, the district hadn’t raised prices since 2010.

Still, the program saw success. One study of 1,030 students by Harvard School of Public Health researchers found the amount of fruits students picked increased by 23%, and the amount of vegetables eaten per student increased 16%.

“The new school meal standards are the strongest implemented by the USDA to date,” the researchers wrote. “And the improved dietary intakes will likely have important health implications for children.”

Trump administration officials have already rolled back some Obama-led school lunch regulations. In 2017, the USDA announced it would grant exemptions for whole grain requirements and reduce targets for sodium content. It also said it would allow schools to sell 1% flavored milks instead of only nonfat flavored milk or 1% white milk.

“I’ve got 14 grandchildren, and there is no way that I would propose something if I didn’t think it was good, healthful, and the right thing to do,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said.

The new regulations will be open for public comment for 60 days online at www.Regulations.gov.