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School lunch

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The federal food regulators have learned they went too far when they tried to control menus for millions of school children. Following a national groundswell of complaints over dietary restrictions on children’s lunches, the Agriculture Department has backed off some of the overreaching attempts to decide what children should eat.

The new guidelines implemented this year to address childhood obesity set limits on calories and salt and called for more whole grains. The department also dictated portion sizes, calorie counts and how much of some food groups could be served. Schools have to follow the rules or lose USDA funding.

School lunch managers were challenged to limit their offerings to students, who didn’t like them or found the small portions unsatisfying. Food was thrown away. Children were going hungry. Students started bringing their lunches. The regulations disregarded the wide differences in nutritional needs of children.

Cafeteria managers complained that they had found it difficult to meet the limitations imposed by Washington bureaucrats deciding they know best what children in Watertown or Ogdensburg should have for lunch.

Now Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has reversed some of the rules. School lunch planners will be allowed as many grains and as much meats as they want.

Calorie limits will remain, but cafeteria managers will have greater flexibility to create balanced meals and decide what to offer based on what serves students. As one local manager said, children might even get to have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day.

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