Pryor, Hoeven seek reevaluation of school lunch rules

U.S. Sens. Mark Pryor (D-AR) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) Monday asked U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to consider providing school districts with greater flexibility in implementing new rules for the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program.

Pryor and Hoeven wrote a letter to Vilsack asking him to address their concerns regarding strict calorie limits, protein sufficiency, increased costs, and lack of flexibility to adapt the program to the individual needs of some students, a news release from Pryor’s office said.

The senators have received numerous messages from parents, school board members, superintendents, and other concerned people expressing their frustration as the new rule is rolled out. The rule became effective in March and implementation began this fall.

The senators say the new rule adopts a one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition, leaving some students hungry and some school districts frustrated with the additional expense, paperwork, and nutritional research necessary to meet federal requirements.

The new rule appears to pose problems, they say, for students in low income families, students in athletic programs or students in school districts with limited operating budgets. Moreover, they say it may be difficult for all students to get adequate protein to feel full throughout the school day. Protein is an important nutrient for growing children, the news release said.

“I’ve heard an outcry from frustrated school administrators, teachers, and parents about the lack of flexibility of the new school lunch and breakfast program rules,” Pryor said. “While I appreciate the USDA’s efforts to improve students’ health, we need to ensure that these new rules are implemented with enough flexibility and fairness that our students are full, healthy, and ready to learn.”

“The new rules are intended to address serious nutritional issues, such as childhood obesity, but they need to be flexible enough for food preparers and school administrators to apply them in a common sense way,” Hoeven said. “Good rules need to be based on good information, and they also need to be effective, fair and reasonable.”

Other senators who signed on to the letter include: Sens. James Inhofe (R-OK), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Mike Enzi (R-WY), John Tester (D-MT), John Thune (R-SD), John Barrasso (R-WY), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Dan Coates (R-IN), and Tim Johnson (D-SD).