In Face of Relaxed School Nutrition Standards, Forward-Thinking Schools Commit to Prioritizing Whole Grains

The USDA announced that the final rule on school meal flexibilities will weaken school nutrition standards, particularly with regards to whole grains. The announcement that only half of the weekly grains served in the school lunch and breakfast programs will be required to be “whole grain rich” is a euphemism for making a meager 25% of the grains whole. This is because “whole grain rich” simply means that at least half of the grains in a food are whole — NOT that the food is 100% whole grain.

The rollback of whole grains in the upcoming final rule is a disconcerting departure from the interim final rule, which required 100% of grains to be whole grain rich, but allowed schools to file for exemptions as needed. According to the interim final rule, published in November 30, 2017, fewer than 15% of schools request waivers for whole grains. The interim final rule also noted that “The availability of whole grain-rich products through USDA Foods and the commercial market has increased significantly since the implementation of the meal standards and continues to progress, providing new and affordable options for local operators to integrate into menus.”

This rollback is an unnecessary threat to children’s health, given that widespread evidence indicates that healthier school meals have actually reduced plate waste without reducing school meal participation in many districts. Despite Secretary Perdue’s comments to the contrary, students today are eating, and enjoying, whole grain foods. Relaxing nutrition guidelines that are already being met is a pointless exercise, and September 2016 data from the USDA show that the vast majority of school districts are certified as complying with the school nutrition standards. This includes 100% certification in states such as Alabama, Kentucky, and Mississippi — states that often don’t receive acknowledgement for meeting nutritional guidelines.

To read the rest of the story, please go to: Whole Grains Council