Hoeven: Students, School Officials Support Sensible School Lunch Act

Senator's Legislation Highlights Need for Flexible Nutrition Programs

FARGO, N.D. – Senator John Hoeven today was joined by students and school officials at Davies High School to show support for the Sensible School Lunch Act, legislation he introduced to provide school districts with greater flexibility to meet the nutritional needs of all students. Hoeven met during the lunch hour to highlight the importance of his legislation, which would ensure that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) permanently modifies strict rules for serving grains, starches and proteins in school meals.

Hoeven was joined by Fargo area students and teachers, including the 6th grade class from Lisbon Middle School, who contacted him to express concerns about strict new school lunch requirements that left students feeling hungry. Fargo Public Schools Director of Nutrition Deb Laber, Fargo Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeff Schatz, Principal Troy Cody and ND Department of Public Instruction Assistant Director of Child Nutrition Programs Deb Egeland were also in attendance.

“These students saw a problem, voiced their concerns and helped to bring attention to issues with the new school lunch rules, and doing so, learned a lesson in civics and helped to solve a problem,” said Hoeven. “More active students left the lunchroom feeling hungry. Schools were having a hard time meeting strict new requirements. This one-size-fits-all approach to our school lunch programs simply wasn’t working. We introduced the Sensible School Lunch Act to ensure that our schools have permanent flexibility to meet students’ nutritional needs.”

Last year, the USDA released a regulation implementing new standards for school meals, effective at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year. The rule attempted to curb obesity by strictly limiting calories, protein and grains for all students without any flexibility to meet the needs of athletes or others whose dietary needs do not fit the guidelines. Complying with the rule exceeded federal funding by at least a projected $75 million a year, according to the USDA, placing greater strain on school budgets.

While the USDA should be commended for attempting to implement a science-based approach to its nutrition recommendations, Hoeven said, the lack of any flexibility for those students with special nutritional needs poses a problem. For example, the USDA categorizes students into broad grade brackets for the purpose of nutritional needs, but according to their strict rule, a 13-year-old eighth grader may eat no more protein than a five-year-old kindergartener, and a 13 year old may eat only one more ounce of grain than a kindergartner. Similarly, an active 18 year-old high school senior playing football would get no more proteins or grains than a less active 14-year-old ninth grader.

Hoeven and a bipartisan group of senators wrote to the USDA requesting greater flexibility for the program and to ensure that students’ nutritional needs are being met. In response to the senators’ request, the USDA in December lifted its strict limit on grains and starches as well as protein to give schools more flexibility. The upper cap on total calories remains in place. This flexibility, however, was provided only through the spring of 2014.

The Sensible School Lunch Act would allow more flexible portions of proteins and grains in the federal school meals program, while leaving in place the rest of the regulation, including the total calorie cap and its emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and non-fat dairy selections. Professional school nutritionists and food preparers welcome the bill because it gives them flexibility to meet the needs of all students, rather than applying a one-size-fits-all rule. At the same time, the total calorie cap remains in place to ensure healthy meals in proportion, and allowable fruits are increased as compared to before, and vegetable servings are unlimited.

The bipartisan legislation was introduced by Senators Hoeven and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), and is cosponsored by Senators John Thune (R-S.D.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Daniel Coats (R-Ind.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.).