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USDA to allow more meat, grains in school lunches

By MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press Published: December 9, 2012

The new tweak doesn't upset nutritionists who fought for the school lunch overhaul.

Margo Wootan, a nutrition lobbyist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says the change is minor and the new guidance shows that USDA will work with school nutrition officials and others who have concerns.

“It takes time to work out the kinks,” Wootan said. “This should show Congress that they don't need to interfere legislatively.”

Congress has already interfered with the rules. Last year, after USDA first proposed the new guidelines, Congress prohibited USDA from limiting potatoes and French fries and allowed school lunchrooms to continue counting tomato paste on pizza as a vegetable.

The school lunch rules apply to federally subsidized lunches served to low-income children. Those meals have always been subject to nutritional guidelines because they are partially paid for by the federal government, but the new rules put broader restrictions on what could be served as childhood obesity rates have skyrocketed.

School kids can still buy additional foods in other parts of the lunchroom and the school. Congress two years ago directed USDA to regulate those foods as well, but the department has yet to issue those rules.

Sen. Hoeven, who had written Vilsack to express concern about the rules, said he will be supportive of the meals overhaul if the USDA continues to be flexible when problems arise.

“This is an important step,” he said. “They are responding and that's what they need to do.”

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