Here's How School Lunches Are About To Change In A Big Way

by Seth Millstein
Matt Cardy/Getty Images News/Getty Images

On Wednesday, the Trump administration paved the way for chocolate milk to be served in public schools, a reversal of an Obama-era limit on fat content in school meals. The new interim rule is one of several changes to existing nutritional regulations that the U.S. Department of Agriculture published on Wednesday, and it will take effect on July 1st after a period of public comment.

Under current rules, public schools may only serve flavored milk if it's nonfat. Once the changes take effect, schools will have the green light to serve milk with up to one percent milk fat, paving the way for chocolate milk.

“Schools need flexibility in menu planning so they can serve nutritious and appealing meals,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement Thursday. “Schools want to offer food that students actually want to eat. It doesn’t do any good to serve nutritious meals if they wind up in the trash can."

Perdue first announced in May that the department would be rolling back several of the minimum health requirements that the Obama administration established. In addition to milk, Perdue said, the new rules would affect the rules for meals containing whole grains and sodium as well.

"This is not reducing the nutritional standards whatsoever," Perdue told reporters at the time. "I wouldn't be as big as I am today without flavored milk."

On Wednesday, the new rules were finally published in the Federal Register, and as promised, they address grains and sodium as well as milk.

Under the Obama administration's rules — which are currently still in place — schools can't serving foods with grains in them unless they're whole grain-rich. The new rules, however, will allow states to receive a waiver exempting them from that requirement, in which case only 50 percent of the grains they serve must be whole grain-rich. In addition, the new regulations delay, by one year, the implementation of a change that would limit the amount of sodium schools are allowed to include in their meals.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama was harshly critical of the changes after they were announced in May, questioning why the nutritional content of kids' meals had become "a partisan issue."

"You have to stop and think, 'Why don't you want our kids to have good food at school? What is wrong with you? And why is that a partisan issue?," Obama said at the Partnership for a Healthier America summit. "Why would that be political?"

During her time in the White House, Obama championed children's health initiatives, and launched the "Let's Move!" program in 2010 in an effort to reduce childhood obesity.

Perdue, however, has argued that stricter nutritional requirements in schools result in meals that students don't find appetizing and, as a result, don't eat. This, he says, eliminates the entire point of imposing minimum nutrition standards to begin with.

“If kids aren’t eating the food, and it’s ending up in the trash, they aren’t getting any nutrition — thus undermining the intent of the program,” Perdue said in May when he announced the changes.

Obama addressed this objection at the May summit, arguing that children are ill-equipped to make their own dietary choices.

"How about we stop asking kids how they feel about their food? Because kids — my kids included — if they could eat pizza and french fries every day with ice cream on top, and a soda, they would think they were happy, until they got sick,” Obama said. “That, to me is one of the most ridiculous things we talk about in this movement...Kids don’t like math either. What are we going to do? Stop teaching math?”

The new rules will remain posted for public comment until July 1st, at which point, pending any change in decision by the Trump administration, they will go into effect.