Hoeven, King introduce school meals flexibility bill | TSLN.com

Hoeven, King introduce school meals flexibility bill

Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with the Democrats, last Friday introduced a bill that would roll back some of the whole grains and sodium reduction requirements under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.

The Senate process of reauthorizing the child nutrition programs including school meals begins Thursday with a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on the subject.

In a news release, Hoeven and King noted that the bill, which is entitled the Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act (S.1146), does not change any other current requirements for calories, fruits or vegetables.

The bill has been endorsed by the School Nutrition Association, which represents school food service directors and the companies that make school foods.

"We're working with school nutrition professionals from across the country on the Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act to ensure that our schools have local flexibility in meeting sodium and whole grain requirements, while maintaining healthy nutritional standards," Hoeven said in a news release.

"We want to make sure that our schools can serve healthy and nutritious meals that our students like, while also making their budgets. This legislation is all about providing both good nutrition and flexibility," Hoeven said.

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"It's no secret that Maine schools, like many around the country, are operating under tighter budgets," King said in the joint release.

"And to their credit, they have done an amazing job of being creative and stretching limited resources to provide quality meals to children. The Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act will help those dollars go even further by giving schools the flexibility to provide their students with nutritious meals."

In addition to the SNA, the bill is endorsed by the National School Boards Association, they noted.

"School nutrition professionals are committed to serving students nutritious, appealing meals and encouraging them to make healthy choices," said School Nutrition Association CEO Patricia Montague.

"Most of the new school meal regulations have supported these efforts, but some of the most restrictive mandates have caused frustrated students to swap school lunch for unhealthy alternatives, defeating the goal of the standards and reducing revenue for menu improvements."

"The Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act ensures schools will continue to serve nutritious meals that meet current sodium limits and offer students a wide variety of whole grains," Montague said.

Hoeven and King described the key components of their bill:

Whole grains

Since July of 2012, at least half of all grains offered with school meals have been whole-grain rich. In July 2014, USDA required that 100 percent of all grains be whole-grain rich.

The Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act would restore the requirement back to 50 percent of total grains to ensure continued access to a wide variety of grain products. This would enable schools to serve items like biscuits, tortillas and pasta that students will eat.

In December, Hoeven worked to include a provision in the Agriculture Appropriations bill that allows schools that establish a hardship from the 100 percent whole grain food requirement to serve meals with 50 percent whole grain rich foods. This legislation would provide permanent flexibility for all schools.

–The Hagstrom Report