Schools keeping goals in focus

Healthy options still on table despite Trump nutrition rollbacks

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. plans to continue offering healthy fruit and vegetables from local farmers as the Trump administration rolls back requirements that were part of a healthy eating initiative by the Obama administration.

As his first major action in office, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the Agriculture Department will delay an upcoming requirement to lower the amount of sodium in school meals while continuing to allow waivers for regulations that all grains on the lunch line must be 50 percent whole grain.

Schools also could serve 1 percent flavored milk instead of the nonfat now required, based on Monday’s announcement.

Nancy Millspaugh, director of food service for the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., said the district will continue to follow federal nutrition standards already in place.

BCSC hasn’t added salt to food it prepares for school lunches in about five years and tries to use different flavors such as garlic pepper and herbs as a salt substitute in certain food items, she said.

The delay in the requirement to lower the amount of sodium in meals will give the district time to come up with different alternatives to salt as an ingredient in some of the school lunch dishes, Millspaugh said.

“Of course, we’re all in agreement that sodium needs to be lowered for children,” she said.

Allowing schools to serve 1 percent flavored milk will be beneficial to the school corporation, she said. Under the former federal guidelines, flavored milk — such as chocolate — had to be fat-free.

“I’m hoping it will increase calcium and intake,” she said. “That, I think, is a bonus to our students.”

The district will continue to buy fresh local food from area farmers, some of which will be stored in a shock freezer at Columbus North High School. For example, the district will be able to store produce and other items that are in season during the summer. The district has purchased local fruits and vegetables since 2008.

In 2016, the school corporation unveiled a new program in its schools, “No Thank You” tables, which allow students to donate unwanted food items to local children or families in need.

All BCSC students are required to take at least one fruit and one vegetable for a standard meal plate, but students have the option of placing items on the “No Thank You” table if they plan to throw it away.

Last year, the most common items on the table were milk, juice, cereal and yogurt, along with fruits and vegetables, Millspaugh said in an earlier interview. Students may also select an item from the table if they wish — and many students go for an extra carton of milk.

The federal school meal changes reflect suggestions from the School Nutrition Association, which represents school nutrition directors and companies that sell food to schools. The group often battled with the Obama administration, which phased in the healthier school meal rules starting in 2012.

The Obama administration rules set fat, sugar and sodium limits on foods in the lunch line and beyond. Schools have long been required to follow government nutrition rules if they accept federal reimbursements for free and reduced-price meals for low-income students, but these standards were stricter.

The Trump administration changes leave most of the Obama administration’s school meal rules in place, including requirements that students must take fruits and vegetables on the lunch line. Some schools have asked for changes to that policy, saying students often throw them away.

However, Millspaugh said that isn’t the case at BCSC, saying that it isn’t seeing food being wasted due to the variety of fruits and vegetables being provided to students. That was noted by a school nutrition review by the Indiana Department of Education this year as part of an on-site assessment, Millspaugh said.

The district also tries to provide items that are in season in an attempt to lower costs and because they taste better, Millspaugh said.

But health advocates who have championed the rules are concerned about the freeze in sodium levels in particular.

School lunches for elementary school students are now required to have less than 1,230 mg of sodium, a change put in place in 2014. The changes would keep the meals at that level, delaying until at least 2020 a requirement to lower sodium to 935 mg. That requirement was scheduled to begin in the 2017-18 school year.

Perdue said the department will work on long-term solutions to further tweak the rules.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Rollback on school-lunch rules

For five years under the Obama administration, public schools that receive federal funding have been required to reduce the amount of calories, fat and sodium in their school breakfasts and lunch and increase offerings of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and nonfat milk to the roughly 32 million students who receive federally subsidized meals.

The Trump administration will allow schools to request an exemption from the whole grain requirements and delay a mandate to lower the sodium content in foods served in school cafeterias. Schools will also be able to serve 1 percent flavored milk instead of nonfat.