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Schools seek changes to healthier lunch rules

By Mary Clare Jalonick

Associated Press

Published: Monday, May 5 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

The School Nutrition Association has asked Congress and USDA to only require that 50 percent of foods be whole grain-rich, to suspend the 2017 sodium requirements and to stop requiring students to take a fruit or vegetable.

Margo Wootan, a nutrition lobbyist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest who has pushed for healthier meals, says relaxing those standards could gut the program. "You can't call a meal a meal without a fruit or vegetable," she said.

USDA has shown some flexibility already: In 2012, the department scrapped maximums on proteins and grains after students complained they were hungry.

USDA's Thornton says problems will lessen as the food industry creates healthier products. "I'll bet that five or seven years down the road, we'll see kids eating healthy food and we'll see acceptance," she said.

Republicans who have complained of government overreach say they may intervene before then. Alabama Rep. Robert Aderholt, the Republican in charge of the House spending committee overseeing USDA, has said school districts need a "pause" while problems are worked out.

Aderholt's panel is expected to release a new spending bill this month that may propose changes. Republicans also are eying the next five-year renewal of the school foods policy, due in 2015.

Sam Kass, senior policy adviser for nutrition at the White House, said last month that there have been "tremendous gains" in school foods and said he finds efforts to undermine that disappointing. "First and foremost, the key is not going back," he said.

At Alexandria's Patrick Henry Elementary last Tuesday, students said they loved their lunches and gobbled up plump strawberries. Kindergartner Jade Kennedy said she recently tried kiwi at school for the first time.

But Domokos-Bays said she will serve white pasta to the students until she has to make the change this summer. Tuesday was pasta day, and several children said it was their favorite lunch — "better than my mom made," first-grader Ruth Gebregiorgis said.

Follow Mary Clare Jalonick on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mcjalonick

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