Jan. 17 (UPI) -- The Trump administration on Friday announced a rollback of regulations on school lunch standards, promising to put school officials "back in the driver's seat of their programs."
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue proposed two new rules he said would reduce food waste and paperwork. Critics warn, though, that the changes could result in the nation's children eating more foods high in calories, saturated fat and sodium.
Under one proposal, the Department of Agriculture said it would provide schools a larger variety of vegetables to serve and make it easier for schools to serve entrees a la carte. The schools would also be allowed greater control in customizing meal patterns and menus.
Finally, the rule implements a performance-based review process to cut down on time spent on paperwork.
"Schools and school districts continue to tell us that there is still too much food waste and that more common-sense flexibility is needed to provide students nutritious and appetizing meals. We listened and now we're getting to work," Perdue said.
"Our proposed changes empower schools to give their very best to our children nationwide and have the potential to benefit nearly 100,000 schools and institutions that feed 30 million children each school day through USDA's school meal programs. Providing children with wholesome, nutritious food is part of our motto at USDA, which is to 'do right and feed everyone.'"
The second rule concerns summer lunch programs, which service more than 2.6 million children each year. Under the proposal, schools will be given more flexibility in choosing meal options, service times and the ability to send children home with non-perishable food items.
The proposals ultimately work to reverse a number of school lunch reforms championed by former first lady Michelle Obama to increase the number of vegetables school children eat and cut down on foods high in calories and sodium.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest said the new proposed rule changes will lead to more children choosing to foods higher in calories, such as pizza, hamburgers and french fries.
"The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 has been called one of the most important obesity-prevention policy achievements in recent decades," CSPI Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs Colin Schwartz said. "Yet the Trump administration seems intent on sabotaging it. While there's plenty of room to strengthen school nutrition further, these proposals instead are basically aiming a flamethrower at it."
This isn't the first effort the Trump administration has made to roll back the Obama administration's nutritional standards in school meals. Earlier efforts to reverse sodium limits and whole grain requirements in school lunches are currently being challenged in court by the attorneys general of multiple states and the District of Columbia.