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Hearty appreciation diluted from USDA recipe for nutrition changes

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Less sugar and flexibility in menu planning are in changing nutrition standards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Like many with unwanted vegetables placed before them, hearty appreciation for the department’s recipe on good nutrition isn’t 100%. One to include is the chairwoman of the Committee on Education and Workforce in the House of Representatives.

U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., says “beltway bureaucrats” want to “push regulations that run counter to the nutritional quality that students deserve” rather than respecting decades of work by school nutritionists and local professionals. “The proof is in the pudding,” she says, “though if you asked the Department, it would want to regulate that out of existence too.”

Secretary Tom Vilsack’s announcement says his department instead listened “closely to public feedback” and considered the latest “science-based recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” The publication is a product of the USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which is led by Navy veteran Dr. Paul Reed.

Taxpayers will help. The USDA provided up to $150,000 each to 264 small and rural school districts to assist in meeting the new standards. There’s a phasing in period lasting until 2027.

The new rules include limits on added sugars; limits on sugars in flavored milk; reduction in sodium content; support of other food preferences such as vegetarian diets, and breakfast foods like yogurt, tofu, eggs, nuts and seeds.

The USDA says starting this fall, schools “have the option to require unprocessed agricultural products to be locally grown, raised or caught” for meal programs. There’s a limit on the percentage of non-domestic grown and produced foods, which the Biden administration says enhances the role of American farmers, producers, fishers and ranchers.

Staying the same is an emphasis on fruits and vegetables; whole grains; local school nutritionists helping make choices, so communities serve meals students want to eat; and prioritization of cultural and faith-based food preferences.

Food and Nutrition Service Administrator Cindy Long said, “The new standards build on the great progress that school meals have made already and address remaining challenges – including reducing sugar in school breakfasts. These updates also make it easier for schools to access locally sourced products, benefiting both schools and the local economy.”