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U.S. Agriculture Secretary announces changes to school meals program during Leesburg visit

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue eats lunch with Catoctin Elementary students ahead of announcing changes to school meals. Times-Mirror/Alex Erkiletian
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue chose Catoctin Elementary School in Leesburg as the venue Monday to sign a proclamation designed to provide greater flexibility in school meal programs. Perdue first ate lunch with students and then outlined changes that will take effect at schools across the country next year.

Under the new guidelines, schools can skip whole grain options to students, instead offering any type of grains on the menu for the 2017-2018 school year.

“We are hearing that the cost of compliance in some areas, particularly the procurement of whole grains, whether it be pasta, dealing with whole grains is more problematic,” Perdue said.

Under current standards, all the grains offered as part of school meals must be 50 percent or more whole grain.

The secretary went on to announce that the amount of salt currently found in children's meals will not be reduced in the coming year. Schools won't be required to make any changes to the amount of sodium in meals they serve until after 2020.

Students will also be given more choice when it comes to selecting milk as an option for breakfast or lunch.

“The thing I hear the most, and I can identify with is, I wouldn't be as big as I am today without chocolate milk and the kids have told me that the flavored milk that was limited to non-fat was not as tasty as they would like," Perdue said. “We are allowing 1 percent flavored milk in our school lunch program.”

Protesters opposed to changes in nutritional standards rally outside Catoctin Elementary. Times-Mirror/Alex Erkiletian

Outside the building, around 30 protesters, some who have children at the elementary school, stood with signs urging officials to guarantee that children would receive healthy meals.

Andrew Gilbert, who has two children at Catoctin Elementary, said he believed the changes would have a negative impact on nutritional standards. Gilbert took his children out of school for the day.

“I didn't want my kids to be there and have anything to do with it to be honest,” he said.

Leesburg Mayor Kelly Burk, a former teacher, joined protesters.

“We don't want to see standards lowered. We object to the fact that this school has been chosen. Parents here were never notified, they found out about it via Facebook,” Burk said.

Holding a placard was grandmother Sharon Walters from Leesburg.“My children who had school lunches are in their 30s. They are the generation that the companies started bringing in the soda machines, the candy, the chips,” Walters said.“Now we have regulations and guidelines [that] are much healthier for our children. So him rolling back important guidelines we already have, Trump is not making us great again -- this is hurting our children.”

Perdue said he wanted to reassure those who were concerned about a reversal in nutritional standards that wasn't the case.

“We all know that meals can't be nutritious if they are not consumed, if they are put in the trash. We have to balance the nutritional aspect, the sodium content, the wholegrain content with the palatability. We know kids are pretty outspoken about what they want to eat and what they don't,” Perdue said.

School Nutrition Association Chief Executive Patti Montague holds the new rule signed by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, flanked by Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and LCPS School Board Members Tom Marshall (Leesburg) and Eric DeKnipp (Catoctin). Times-Mirror/Chantalle Edmunds

The secretary continued, “No way we are not unwinding any nutritional standards at all. We are giving food service professionals the flexibility to move as we get a healthier generation ... I applaud first lady Michelle Obama for addressing those obesity problems in the past, but it is also to do with exercise. I have 14 grandchildren, and I can tell you we do everything we can not only to feed them healthy, but also to get things other than their fingers exercised on those screens."

First lady of Virginia Dorothy McAuliffe issued a statement on the new rule Monday afternoon. She said part of her mission as first lady is to end childhood hunger in the commonwealth, and she expressed disappointment in the decision to introduce flexibility in reaching whole-grain benchmarks and delaying sodium reduction targets.

Yet McAuliffe said she is "encouraged that the Trump Administration is not pursuing a full roll-back of the standards, which have been successful at improving nutritional intake and health outcomes for our students from all backgrounds."

"We must balance the need for administrative flexibility with evidence-based nutrition research,” McAuliffe said.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), School Nutrition Association Chief Executive Patti Montague and LCPS School Board members Tom Marshall (Leesburg) and Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin) flanked the agriculture secretary as the new rule was signed.

DeKenipp contacted the Times-Mirror prior Perdue's visit to condemn the protest.

“I fully support their right to protest and freedom of speech, but to interrupt the kids school day is completely inappropriate,” DeKenipp said.

Following the visit to Catoctin Elementary, Perdue visited C.S. Monroe Technology Center, where he connected with six Future Farmers of America chapters via YouTube Live.


EdMyers, does it cost you $8 to take a shower?  $10 to vacuum the floor?  $25 to eat lunch yourself?

Such extrapolations are useless.  Taking care of oneself and your family is part of personal responsibility.  While I agree the issue doesn’t go away just because some kids’ parents will make them lunch, let’s not suggest it’s better outsource lunches to the cafeteria.

Kids need nutritious lunches they will eat.  The latter part, as well as providing enough calories for growing kids, is key.  Milk provides whole protein which is critical for brain and muscle development.  Some of these kids may not be getting that at home.  Many doctors now suggest serving whole milk to kids.  I think it’s more important kids drink that milk than worrying about whether it’s 1% or skim.  Milk is not causing kids to be obese.

On a side note, I make my kids’ lunches so that I can verify what they eat (if they don’t eat something, I generally know).  And I use this amazing technology called a thermos to provide hot lunches.

I pack my own lunch for work most of the time and pack lunch for my kids at the same time.  I don’t mind staying up an extra 10 minutes at the end of the night if it means my family is eating well the next day.  Can’t imagine how some of my coworkers will look in 20 years with how often they eat out.

People, be responsible for yourselves and your families and stop depending on the government for everything.  It’s crazy that parents have become so reliant on public schools for so many things ... all day child care, discounted meals, and even after school activities ... when the whole purpose of public schools was (and should still be) teaching kids reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Taking 6 minutes away from a $100K per year job to make lunch for a kid is $5. That is twice the cost of buying a school lunch and it isn’t warm.  And if you don’t make that much money the lunch might be free or reduced. Should poor people get unhealthy meals, Duncan?

EdMyers: “The cost of packing a lunch is several times the cost of buying lunch especially if you count the time to make it.”

Oh please…

trying again - someone took 1st comment down - abc & nbc had good coverage

usda site suggests sec of ag owes “responsibility to our shareholders” - “flexibility” which lobbyists win for sugar, salt & fat food industries

healthy eating initiative supports good nutrition; this effort undermines it

The schools don’t provide refrigerators or microwaves. That severely limits the food choices for those who are forced to pack meals for their kids because schools don’t want to serve healthy meals. The cost of packing a lunch is several times the cost of buying lunch especially if you count the time to make it.

“What good is it to offer uber-healthy foods if kids aren’t eating them? Is it better for our kids (poor, middle class, and rich alike) to go hungry at school or to have some options that may not exactly be the ultimate in health food?” - The Resurgent

These dopey protesters are the ones who blame the fact that their kids are fat on everyone but themselves. They are too dense to help themselves so they want someone to do the work for them.
Here is a novel idea protesters: If you don’t like what the school is serving, make them lunch! The lunches in schools right now are inedible, absolutely disgusting gruel that I wouldn’t feed to a dog I didn’t like. Keep your kids active instead of sitting in front of their video games and you won’t have to worry about fat kids.

usda site suggests sec of ag owes “responsibility to our shareholders” - “flexibility” which lobbyists “win” for sugar, salt & fat food industries   woohoo

sec. perdue’s double negative - aka there is “No way we are not unwinding…” - meaning we are unwinding?  as suspected

healthy eating initiative supports good nutrition; this effort undermines it

ps - wouldn’t trust any (education or other) of sen. roberts efforts in kansas - used to be a great education state… va high schools now rank 11th, ks high schools only rank 45th

Yo parents, you don’t like what is being served, then send a home packed lunch in with your kids.  Easy solution.  It isn’t the job of the public school system to feed your kid.  The lunch program is there for a convenience, and like most convenient things, it will not be top quality.  It isn’t too difficult to spend 5 minutes in the morning to throw a sandwich, an apple, and a bag of nuts into a paper bag for your kid.  Stop relying on others to perform parental duties and you will see the changes you are seeking.

I miss Ed Asner.

I really hate the current admin’s tendency to oppose something SOLELY because it was formed during the Obama administration. But, no matter, the states should decide, and decide to be healthy.

Kooky protesters, why don’t YOU ensure your kids get a healthy meal and pack a lunch for them? Thank you Mr. Purdue for sharing the day with students in Loudoun County…liberals breed government dependence…

Protestors without jobs, apparently.

Congratulations to the new Administration on rolling back health standards for our kids’ lunches, to make it easier for their lobbyist friends to serve more salt to your kids. The School Nutrition Association (Lobbying Group), who pushed Congress hard for relaxing these standards, was literally at the table.

I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. DeKenipp. Interrupting the kids school day by trotting out a parade of empty suits and lobbyists for a press event INSIDE the school building, during school hours, is completely inappropriate.

So the salt in food will not be reduced, but there’s not denial that it won’t be increased.  The sugar content in 1% chocolate milk is just as bad as a coca cola.  And non whole grains lack key nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, protein, and fiber.  Why?  Because it’s somehow easier for the school to shovel crap and it’s tastier for the kids?  This administration is a complete joke!

Here’s an idea: how about bringing your own lunch to school and not worrying about government guidelines.

Wow.  that is really a big disruption to have the Secretary of Agriculture come to a school to make an announcement.  Gee, I did not see any parents or pols protesting Michele Obama coming to Loudoun to do the same a year or so ago.  Maybe the Times can look into that one and see if Republicans were out there booing her.

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