Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

More Pizza And Fries? USDA Proposes To 'Simplify' Obama-Era School Lunch Rules

School lunch rules may be getting more flexible.
Tetra Images
Getty Images
School lunch rules may be getting more flexible.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed new rules for school meals aimed at giving administrators more flexibility in what they serve in school cafeterias around the country each day.

For instance, instead of being required to offer higher quantities of nutrient-dense red and orange vegetables such as carrots, peppers and butternut squash, schools would have more discretion over the varieties of vegetables they offer each day. In addition, students will be allowed to purchase more entree items as a la carte selections.

"Schools and school districts continue to tell us that there is still too much food waste and that more common-sense flexibility is needed to provide students nutritious and appetizing meals," writes Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in a release about the proposed meal reforms.

Perdue introduced the proposed rules Friday during a round-table discussion held at an elementary school in Texas. Perdue ate lunch with a group of second-graders during the visit.

But critics say the proposed changes from the Trump administration amount to further rollbacks of the nutrition standards put in place during the Obama administration following the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

"It's a disappointment," says Colin Schwartz of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. He says the proposed rule would allow foods served as an entree to be served as a la carte items — which could have unintended consequences.

"In practice, if finalized, this would create a huge loophole in school nutrition guidelines,paving the way for children to choose pizza, burgers, French fries, and other foods high in calories, saturated fat or sodium in place of balanced school meals every day," Schwartz says.

The proposal follows a spate of rule changes announced by Perdue in 2018 that weakened the whole grain requirements and gave school administrators more leeway to serve up white breads and biscuits. In addition, the 2018 changes put the brakes on the targets set during the Obama administration to cut back on sodium in school meals.

"The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 has been called one of the most important obesity-prevention policy achievements in recent decades," Schwartz says. "Yet the Trump administration seems intent on sabotaging it."

The School Nutrition Association, which represents school nutrition administrators around the country, has supported the USDA's efforts to streamline school nutrition rules. The group joined Secretary Perdue at the nutrition roundtable today.

"SNA is eager to review the proposed changes, discuss them with our members and share their feedback with USDA," wrote SNA President Gay Anderson in a release. "We are grateful for USDA's ongoing dialogue with school nutrition professionals and desire to ensure school meal programs operate smoothly to benefit students."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit

Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.