First lady's lunches take hit in spending bill

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First lady Michelle ObamaMichelle ObamaThe Trail 2016: Miss Universe crashes campaign Former Miss Universe becomes surprise story to emerge from debate Michelle Obama’s moving woes MORE’s efforts to ensure healthier school lunches took a blow in the $1 trillion government funding measure unveiled by House Republicans on Tuesday.

The spending package includes provisions rolling back required reductions on sodium in school lunches, saying the rule should not be implemented “until the latest scientific research establishes the reduction is beneficial for children.”

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The legislation also says states should be allowed to issue waivers to schools that could demonstrate “hardship” in implementing requirements for incorporating whole grains into the meals.

The White House dismissed the provisions in the spending bill.

“In light of the efforts to roll back school nutrition standards, we consider the minor adjustments to the standards a real win for kids and parents,” Sam Kass, the executive director of the first lady’s “Let’s Move!” initiative said in a statement. “The Administration will continue to support districts across the country in every way we can to achieve the goal of providing good nutritious food for students,” added Kass, who is also President Obama’s personal chef and is leaving the White House at the end of the month.

Republicans have argued that schools needed greater flexibility to implement the standards championed by the first lady, saying that requirements, in some instances, have forced school lunch programs to operate at a loss. In May, the House Appropriations Committee offered a bill that would have waived tougher standards on sodium, whole grains, fruits and vegetables for schools that could show they had operated at a net loss over six months.

"Nobody here is disagreeing on nutrition in school lunches," Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told The New York Times earlier this week. "It's just that sometimes people carrying out your wishes are so overzealous they go beyond what you were asking."

Schoolchildren upset with the offerings in their school’s cafeterias have gained attention by posting pictures of unappetizing meals to social media, often with the hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama.

But the first lady has fought to preserve the standards, hosting a series of events at the White House in support of the nutritional requirements. In an interview earlier this year, Obama said lawmakers should focus more on helping schools meet the standards, not removing them.

“What we need to do is lend a hand to the schools that are struggling, not roll back the standards and say, ‘Oh, well. The kids don’t like it so let them eat cake.’ We can’t afford to do that," she said.

Officials should "help the schools that are struggling do a better job at making the meals more enjoyable for the kids,” Obama added.

“It’s so important for our schools to make the hard calls for our kids, because parents are struggling enough at home. So once you make that decision to set the rules, you don’t want to be undermined when your kids go to school and have some sweet cereal for breakfast with chocolate milk followed by a donut and then a burger and fries for lunch," she continued. "That’s why we’re in the state that we’re in right now, in regards to the epidemic of childhood obesity."  

--This report was updated at 12:24 p.m.