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White House chef 'confident' Congress won't roll back school lunch requirements

The White House is "fully confident" that Congress will not roll back stricter nutrition standards in school lunches, Sam Kass, the executive director of first lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" initiative, said Friday.

"In the end, this is what parents want. Parents want our kids to get nourishing food in schools," Kass said in an interview with CNN. "So I think in the end, reason will win out here."

On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would waive tougher standards on sodium, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables for schools that could show they had operated at a net loss over six months.

But Kass said the administration was hopeful that a compromise agreement adopted by the Senate Appropriations committee would carry the day.

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Under that deal, tougher requirements on sodium levels would not be implemented, although requirements on schools to offer fruits and vegetables would remain. The Senate plan also asks the USDA to identify products schools could purchase instead of whole grain pastas and breads, and offer technical assistance to schools struggling to meet the new requirements.

"What's in their bill is much more reasonable," Kass told CNN. "So I think there's a way we can get this to a good place. I'm fully confident that we're not going to roll this back."

Kass also noted that the USDA had already provided "flexibility" by giving schools more time to implement requirements demanding whole grain pasta.

"But that doesn't mean we should roll this whole thing back and allow schools to just opt out of nutritional standards, which is what has been proposed in the House," Kass said.

Kass added that the first lady was "concerned" that she was "seeing politicians and industry influence really stepping on the wisdom of our scientists and nutritionists."

The first lady has aggressively sought to rally votes against the wavier, including with a column in The New York Times published late Wednesday night.

In the piece, President Obama encouraged parents to “put our children’s interests first.”

“We wake up every morning and go to bed every night worrying about their well-being and their futures,” Obama said. “And when we make decisions about our kids’ health, we rely on doctors and experts who can give us accurate information based on sound science. Our leaders in Washington should do the same.”

Earlier in the week, Obama told a group of school nutritionists at the White House that the GOP-led effort to allow schools to opt out of nutrition standards was “unacceptable.” She also held a call with advocacy groups to rally their support for the tougher standards.