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Dairy Facts 2016

USDA Allows New Flexibility in School Lunches

Dec 12, 2012

Responding to criticism about school meals from some members of Congress, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has decided to allow more flexibility in meeting the new standards in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the department will ease the limits on meats and grains and allow schools to serve larger portions of fruits, vegetables and "even milk" in school lunches.

The act, signed into law two years ago and implemented this school year, updated the nutrition requirements for the National School Lunch Program. To ensure proper nutrition and combat the growth of childhood obesity, the updates included a reworking of portion sizes and revised the balance between food groups.

Legislators, along with school administrators and food service personnel, had complained that students were going hungry under the new guidelines. In a letter sent last week to Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), Vilsack acknowledged reports that schools were struggling to serve meals that fit within the weekly minimum and maximum serving ranges for grains and meat or meat alternates. 

"If a school is meeting just the minimum serving requirements for these two food groups, they will be considered in compliance with that portion of the standards, regardless of whether they have exceeded the maximum," Vilsack said. "This flexibility is being provided to allow more time for the development of products that fit within the new standards while granting schools additional weekly menu planning options to help ensure that children receive a wholesome nutritious meal every day of the week."

In the letter, Vilsack notes that the department's actions are "by no means exhaustive," adding that USDA will continue to provide "flexibilities where appropriate."

For more information, contact Ruth Saunders, IDFA vice president of policy and legislative affairs, at

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