House bill takes aim at school lunch rules

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House Republican Kristi Noem (S.D.) has introduced legislation that would relax the school lunch rules supported by first lady Michelle Obama.

The Reducing Federal Mandates on School Lunch Act, unveiled Thursday, would allow schools to stick with previous whole grain requirements, which require at least half of all grains served in a school breakfast and lunch to be whole. The new standard is 100 percent whole grain, which could rule out tortillas and pasta.

“As a parent, I want nothing more than for my kids to grow up happy and healthy,” Noem said in a statement. “Unfortunately, current school meal requirements push all kids — and all schools — into a one-size-fits-all model.”

Noem unveiled the bill about two weeks after Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) introduced similar legislation in the upper chamber.

In addition to easing whole grain requirements, Noem's bill would ease sodium restrictions, give school administrators flexibility on some of the rules that have increased costs, including the school breakfast program, a la carte options, and school lunch price increases, and make USDA’s easing of the meat and grain requirements permanent.

The bill is the latest salvo in a battle between the Obama administration and the new GOP-led Congress, which will consider reauthorizing the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 this year.

Republican critics say the healthier meals  — a central component of the first lady’s "Let’s Move" campaign to fight childhood obesity— are driving up costs for schools because fewer students are participating in lunch programs.

“The declining number of kids in the school lunch program shows that it’s not working,” Noem said in the release. “Our kids deserve better. They deserve a school meal program that is rooted in science-based nutrition plans — a program that includes food that they’re actually going to eat.”