Arkansas delegation seeks flexibility in school lunch regs


WASHINGTON — The Arkansas delegation wants to give public school cafeterias some wiggle room in meeting new federal Agriculture Department nutrition standards.

The state’s four Republican House members introduced a bill Tuesday that would waive strict restrictions on servings of proteins and grains that were included in the Department of Agriculture’s latest standards for school lunch and breakfast meals.

The bill mirrors Senate legislation that Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., introduced earlier this month with Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

USDA has waived strict limits on proteins and grains to give schools more flexibility, while keeping in place the upper cap on total calories. But the action is temporary.

The legislation would permanently lift the cap on proteins and grains in the federal school meals program.

“USDA’s new school nutrition regulations are not working and are leaving students hungry,” said Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro.

USDA categorizes students into broad grade brackets for the purpose of nutritional needs, which means a 13-year-old eighth grader may eat no more protein than a five-year-old kindergartner. Similarly, an 18-year-old high school senior would get no more proteins or grains than a 14-year-old ninth grader.

Reps. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, Steve Womack, R-Rogers, and Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, joined Crawford in introducing the House version.

Pryor welcomed the effort.

“After talking with Arkansas school administrators, parents and students, it’s evident that school districts need greater flexibility in implementing these new nutritional standards,” Pryor said. “I’m pleased to see the Arkansas delegation back our efforts to keep Arkansas students full and healthy.”

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 required new standards for school meals, in part, to address the epidemic of childhood obesity.

About 32 million children a day participate in the federally subsidized school lunch and breakfast programs.