Senator Tester asks USDA for more flexible school lunch guidelines

American Ag Radio Network

by Shawna Aakre

Senator Jon Tester has expressed his concerns about the USDA’s recently changed National School Lunch Program. He is calling on the USDA to allow more flexibility in its new school lunch guidelines as some students are no longer getting enough calories at lunch and get hungry before heading home or to after-school activities.

Tester, an advocate of Farm to School healthy food initiatives, applauds the USDA for encouraging healthier food, but wants the department to give rural schools across Montana more flexibility so they can meet the nutritional needs of their students.

“Reports indicate implementation has not been smooth for many families and schools are having difficulty with these new standards,” Tester wrote Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Rural schools and low-income students are especially challenged and we urge you to consider the need for additional flexibility.”

Tester told Vilsack that the new guidelines treat students the same “without any consideration for gender, height, weight, or level of physical activity.” The school lunch program serves about 80,000 Montana students daily, making a one-size-fits-all policy difficult to implement. He also highlighted how rural schools often have trouble hiring enough staff to implement the recommended meal guidelines.

Parents and students, along with school superintendents and board members, have told Tester the guidelines are too restrictive. Many parents have reported sending their kids to schools with extra snacks to eat in the afternoon.