USDA announced today it would make permanent the current flexibility in the National School Lunch Program that allows schools to serve larger portions of lean protein and whole grains.

Flexibility in school lunch program made permanentThe new school lunch guidelines were intended to curb childhood obesity, but initial reaction was largely negative. The original guidelines limited total meat/meat alternate to 10-12 ounces per week for high school students (smaller portions were called for with younger students). After widespread concern from parents, students (including a group of students from Wallace County High School in Kansas who created the viral “We are Hungry” video parody), lawmakers and school districts that the original guidelines were too strict and did not provide adequate nutrition for all students, USDA in 2012 granted temporary flexibility to school districts in meeting the daily and weekly ranges for grain and protein food items.

USDA said it received “overwhelmingly positive” feedback on the temporary flexibility from schools because it made the process to certify that schools are meeting NSLP requirements less complicated and increased student acceptability of the new meals being served.

"Earlier this school year, USDA made a commitment to school nutrition professionals that we would make the meat and grain flexibility permanent and provide needed stability for long-term planning. We have delivered on that promise," said USDA Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon.

Kansas Senator Pat Roberts was quick to commend the change. Sen. Roberts sent letters to USDA raising concerns with the new guidelines and introduced legislation with a group of senators to roll back the restrictions. Other lawmakers, including Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) also praised the announcement. 

“This has been a battle for common sense in the cafeteria,” Senator Roberts said. “These guidelines were leaving students hungry throughout the school day and athletic events, in the end we were able to convince USDA to listen to reason.”

Approximately 31 million children in the United States receive free or reduced-cost school lunches and more than 10 million receive free or discount breakfasts. The guidelines were adopted in 2012 as part of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and were aimed at limiting fat and salt, reducing portion sizes and increasing fruit and vegetable servings.