In recent years, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) has become more political than ever before with rollbacks and attacks on the nutrition standards. Virtually overnight, COVID-19 has also had a significant impact and changed who qualifies for free school meals, the types of food kids are served, and the ways in which they access meals. Throughout 2020, the USDA and the Trump administration implemented school lunch waivers and proposed rules that have the potential to affect kids’ health and lead to increased rates of childhood obesity. In this episode, I interview Colin Schwartz, Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) about what happened with school lunch in 2020, what it means for our kids’ health, and what we can expect from the Biden administration this year.
For the highlights, see the time stamps below, but listening to the entire episode will give you a deep dive into the issues.
1:46 As a result of COVID-19, the USDA has provided free meals to kids through the 2020-21 school year which is something school advocates have been asking to have for years. Yet CSPI and other organizations have concerns about the nutritional quality of those meals as well as attacks on the standards by the Trump Administration.
6.29 The USDA also implemented the meal pattern waiver which allowed schools to serve meals that don’t meet certain nutritional standards.
7.52 The Trump Administration waived a requirement from Congress which stated that schools have to demonstrate hardship in procurement.
9:47 Congress passed a package to fund schools for any deficit spending they had at the beginning of the pandemic.
11:03 School breakfasts are high in added sugars too, but there’s no standard in place to limit them in school meals.
14.42 Are more kids eating school meals, is there a reduction in food waste, and will the waivers—and the potential for weakened school nutrition standards— lead to increased childhood obesity rates and poor health?
20:06 Will the school lunch waivers have an impact on kids’ food choices outside of the home?
24.23 What are competitive foods, will they return, and if the new proposed rules are implemented, how will it affect kids’ health?
33:59 In January and November 2020, the USDA published proposed rules that would allow certain flexibilities around fruit at breakfast, starchy vegetables, flavored milk, whole grains, and sodium.
37.32 The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 state a healthy dietary pattern should include vegetables and recommend plant-based foods like beans and legumes. Are schools adding more plant-based options?
40.17 What does the research show about the impact of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, and given the new proposed rules, what are the concerns?
44:09 What will the Biden administration do to improve school meals?
45:31 What is the Center for Science in the Public Interest doing to support universal school meals?
49:48 What can parents do to educate themselves and advocate for healthier school meals?
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