Congresswoman Kristi Noem’s Weekly Column: Back to School Lunch Reform

noem press header kristi noem headshot May 21 2014Back to School Lunch Reform
By Rep. Kristi Noem
September 11, 2015

It’s back to school, and for most South Dakota students, that means back to school lunches.  Once again this year, schools are facing even more stringent restrictions when it comes to what they can put on our kids’ plates.  As a mom, I think it’s gone too far.

I want to do everything I can to make sure my kids are eating healthy and learning healthy habits.  It’s one of the most important things we can do for our children.  But I also know that if the food doesn’t taste good and half of it is pushed off the tray at the end of the meal, it’s not doing them any favors. Unfortunately, that’s what is happening under current regulations.  As a result, kids are leaving the table hungry or opting to bring their own lunch and dropping out of the school meal program completely.

In fact, between the 2010-11 and 2012-13 school years 1.2 million kids dropped out of the federal school lunch program.  That was the first decline we’d seen in over a decade.  Unfortunately, when participation declines like this, food and labor costs increase, meaning some school districts have had to pull from their general fund to make ends meet.

The downward trend began after Michelle Obama’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was implemented and a slew of new regulations came into effect.  These new regulations tied the hands of local schools and parents, so we’ve been working since to bring some relief.

This year, Congress has begun the process of reauthorizing the school meal program, giving an opportunity to make some meaningful changes.  Some of what we’re looking to do is captured in legislation I wrote.

More specifically, under Michelle Obama’s law, schools are strictly limited in the amount of sodium they can serve – so much so that once the law is fully implemented, foods with naturally occurring sodium, like milk, cheese and some meats, could push schools outside the USDA-approved zone and jeopardize some of the federal funding they receive for school lunches.  I would like to scale back those restrictions, as well as those that require foods to be 100% whole-grain rich.  Those changes give schools more choices.

My legislation also makes the USDA’s easing of meat and grain requirements permanent.  As written, the law limits schools to serving only small amounts of meat.  In fact, three chicken nuggets could put a school over the allowed meat limits.  While the USDA has lessened those restrictions through regulations because of pressure from Congress, I’d like to back that change with the certainty of law.

Finally, we should give schools some additional flexibility if the costs to comply with certain federal regulations get too high, which my legislation does as well.

These changes need to be made – and they can be made while still ensuring students are served nutritious meals.

Our son, Booker, is an active kid.  I want to make sure federal regulations aren’t stopping him or any of our young people from getting the food they need to be successful in school and in their after-school activities.


2 thoughts on “Congresswoman Kristi Noem’s Weekly Column: Back to School Lunch Reform”

  1. You are quite wrong, Rep. Noem. Salt causes high blood pressure and is a contributing factor to obesity. There is no “naturally occurring” sodium. It’s an additive to cheese and processed meat that is dangerous to children.

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