White rice, non whole-grain breads and pastas, and 1 percent fat chocolate milk could be back on the menu for students in schools across Johnson County.

The United States Department of Agriculture is rolling back several Obama Administration-era restrictions on what schools can feed their students, changing rules on salt, whole grains and milk, agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue announced Monday.

Further restrictions on the amount of salt planned to go into effect the next school year will be halted for several years, schools can now serve flavored 1 percent fat milk, and breads and pastas will only have to be 50 percent whole grain rather than 100 percent whole grain.

Story continues below gallery

Click here to purchase photos from this gallery

The changes to the National School Lunch program were put in place in 2010 with the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.

School food service directors in Johnson County praised the reversal of some of the restrictions by the Trump Administration, saying it would give them more flexibility in offering appealing and healthy meals to students. Changes to cafeteria menus are likely to show up when students at school next fall.

Temporarily halting the implementation of the tighter requirements on sodium levels in food will provide a reprieve for schools as it would have been difficult to provide a good variety of affordable meals that fit those standards, Indian Creek Director of Food Services Carol Schaaf said.

While the cafeteria doesn’t add any extra salt to meals, finding food providers who could meet the stricter requirements was going to be challenging, she said.

“The last few years have been tougher and tougher on schools to try and give menu options students will eat with the added expenses,” Franklin Superintendent David Clendening said.

The problem with the rules, in particular the whole grain requirements, were that some foods such as whole-grain pasta and brown rice weren’t well received by students, Franklin Food Services Director Jill Overton said.

“I don’t know anyone who eats every grain as a whole grain,” she said. “Some products weren’t meant to be whole grain.”

Some school districts in Johnson County, such as Franklin and Indian Creek, already had received federal waivers to skip the whole grain requirements on items such as pasta or biscuits.

Overton cited brown rice and whole-grain pasta as two foods that students avoided. The school also stopped serving saltine crackers as the whole grain version wasn’t palatable.

Because of the whole grain requirements, saltine crackers and white rice were some of the items that had to be taken off the menu, Overton said.

One change Franklin schools may not make is to bring back 1 percent flavored milk. Since students made the transition to drinking skim milk without any issues, she doesn’t think the school needs to bring back the other options.

While getting students to eat healthy is important, it is just as essential to be serving foods that they are going to eat, Greenwood Food Services Director Cheryl Hargis said.

While some schools have reported push back from students over not liking the whole-grain food, Schaaf said students at Indian Creek adjusted well to the new tastes, and they will likely keep items such as whole-grain bread.

While school officials praised the changes on salt and whole grains, they agreed the emphasis on fruits and vegetables needs to be maintained.

“I think that the new push toward more fresh fruits and vegetables is a great idea, and we would never change from that,” Schaaf said.

At issue

Meals at school cafeterias in Johnson County could be different next fall, as the Trump Administration is relaxing some nutrition standards. Here are the changes:

  • Further restrictions on sodium levels have been halted for several years
  • 1 percent flavored milk is now allowed
  • Breads and pastas now can be above 50 percent whole grain, rather than 100 percent
Author photo
Jacob Tellers is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at jtellers@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2702.