Lawmakers are calling for another round of changes to the federal school lunch requirements as schools continue to drop out of the program on concerns that the regulations are creating administrative burdens and provide limited flexibility.
The request follows news of a suburban Chicago school district's choice to leave the federal school lunch program last week.
New lunch regulations are part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and represent an effort to offer more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, fat-free or low-fat fluid milk, control saturated fat and calorie levels and minimize trans fat in school meals.
More than 40 members of Congress signed on to the letter announced May 9 which requested that the requirements be simplified to ease the "administrative burdens" and "provide flexibility" to School Food Authorities.
USDA in January approved permanent changes to the school lunch program after outcry regarding calorie and protein caps.
Opponents of the original requirements – which provided both a minimum and maximum serving size for lean proteins and whole grains – said they were too strict and did not provide adequate nutrition for all students.
Lawmakers requesting more changes point to a Government Accountability Office report that found 1.2 million fewer children are participating in the school lunch program since the requirements were adopted, and schools are still experiencing plate waste, meal planning difficulties and higher meal costs.
"The good news is that there are solutions that USDA could enact right now to provide much needed flexibility to our school nutrition professionals who witness the impact of these regulations every day," the lawmakers said.
They suggested that USDA suspend Target 2 sodium requirements – which will begin to be gradually achieved after July 1, 2014, but no later than July 1, 2017; and that USDA allow any food item permitted to be served as part of a reimbursable meal to be sold at any time as a competitive food.
Additionally, they asked USDA to keep the percentage of foods that must be whole-grain at 50 and suggested USDA should establish a waiver process for school districts that cannot operate their school meal program without incurring increased costs due to the new regulations.
Signatories include: U.S. Reps. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., Kristi Noem, R-S.D., Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., Rob Bishop, R-Utah, Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., Louie Gohmert, R-La., Candice Miller, R-Mich., Mike Conaway, R-Texas, Larry Bucshon, R-Ind., David Joyce, R-Ohio, Aaron Schock, R-Ill., David Valadao, R-Calif., Jim Renacci, R-Ohio, Reid Ribble, R-Wis., Kerry Bentivolio, R-Mich., Scott Tipton, R-Colo., Tom Rice, R-S.C., Steve Pearce, R-Texas, Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., Mike Kelly, R-Pa., Doc Hastings, R-Wash., Ted Poe, R-Texas, Tim Griffin, R-Ark., Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Mark Amodei, R-Nev., Alan Nunnelee, R-Miss., Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., Phil Roe, R-Tenn., Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., Rick Crawford, R-Ark., Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, Chris Collins, R-N.Y., Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Stephen Fincher, R-Tenn., Steve Womack, R-Ark., Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Jackie Walorski, R-Ind.