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Ag Secretary Perdue moves to make school meals great again

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue eats lunch with students at Catoctin Elementary School.

Today, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that the USDA will provide greater flexibility in nutrition requirements for school meal programs.

The Ag Secretary has begun working to make food choices healthy and appealing to students.

Perdue made the announcement during a visit to Catoctin Elementary School in Leesberg, Virginia to mark School Nutrition Employee Week.

Perdue signed a proclamation which begins the process of restoring local control of guidelines on whole grains, sodium, and milk.

Under the Obama Administration, USDA eliminated low-fat flavored milk as an option in the school meal and a la carte programs.

Since then, consumption of school milk declined, as did overall participation in the school lunch program.

Perdue announced that the USDA will implement regulations to allow school districts to again offer low-fat (1%) flavored milk as part of the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs.

Dairy leaders thanked Perdue for recognizing the important role school milk plays in ensuring school-aged children get the nutrition they need.

“In just the first two years after low-fat flavored milk was removed from the program, 1.1 million fewer school students drank milk with their lunch,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation.

Schools have been facing increasing fiscal burdens as they attempt to adhere to existing, stringent nutrition requirements.

According to USDA figures, school food requirements cost school districts and states an additional $1.22 billion in Fiscal Year 2015.

As a nation, about one million students choose not to have a school lunch each day.

The decline in school lunch participation means reduced revenue to schools while they simultaneously are encountering increased costs.

“If kids aren’t eating the food, and it’s ending up in the trash, they aren’t getting any nutrition – thus undermining the intent of the program,” Perdue said

CEO of the School Nutrition Association Patricia Montague said,  “I commend Secretary Perdue for taking this important step. We have been wanting flexibility so that schools can serve meals that are both nutritious and palatable. We don’t want kids wasting their meals by throwing them away.”

“I’ve got 14 grandchildren, and there is no way that I would propose something if I didn’t think it was good, healthful, and the right thing to do,” Perdue said.  “And here’s the thing about local control: it means that this new flexibility will give schools and states the option of doing what we’re laying out here today.”

Perdue praised the efforts of the nation’s food service staff in serving healthful, appealing meals.

“We have a responsibility to our shareholders and our customers – the American taxpayers – to provide our school children with healthful and nutritious meals in the most efficient and cost effective way possible,” Purdue concluded.