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School lunch standards lowered as more toddlers eat French fries as their only veggie

School lunches are not getting any healthier under the Trump administration — at least not yet. Salt can stay, whole grains can go, and chocolate milk is making a comeback, according to changes in the current federal nutrition standards championed by former first lady Michelle Obama.

The new guidelines, announced Monday by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, “come after years of constructive feedback from schools, students, and food service experts,” according to a USDA news release. “If kids aren’t eating the food, and it’s ending up in the trash, they aren’t getting any nutrition, thus undermining the intent of the program,” Perdue said in the release.

So, here’s what it means:

Cafeterias will be allowed, through 2018, to continue using waivers for regulating that all grains be rich in whole grain — specifically, more than half whole grain — if the school is experiencing hardship.

Through 2020, sodium does not have to be cut from school meals and schools can even raise salt levels. Schools will be considered compliant if they meet the Sodium 1 Target instead of the currently required Sodium 2 Target. (USDA sodium target table here.)

Schools can serve 1 percent milk instead of the currently required nonfat; this includes flavored milk.

One of Perdue’s examples of the need for change pointed to the south, where schools want to serve grits. “But the whole grain variety has little black flakes in it, and the kids won’t eat it.  The school is compliant with the whole grain requirements, but no one is eating the grits.  That doesn’t make any sense,” Perdue said.

Another reason for the changes is the financial burden schools face, trying to adhere to the more expensive current standards while fewer kids are eating school lunches.

Schools always have the option to go a healthier route (if they can afford it). “Here’s the thing about local control: It means that this new flexibility will give schools and states the option of doing what we’re laying out here today.  These are not mandates on schools,” he said.

So while U.S. schoolchildren’s cafeteria lunches are in the slow lane for getting healthier, most of their little siblings at home aren’t doing any better.

A national survey shows 90 percent of American toddlers are much more likely to have French fries as their only source of vegetables on any given day, being fed the salty side instead of green vegetables.

Growing babies. French fries. Their only vegetable. 90 percent.

I know. As kids, we all agreed French fries and ketchup count as two vegetables, but as adults… 🙄

And some kids aren’t getting any vegetables at all, according to the study conducted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 2,359 participants, one in four kids ages 6- to 11-months had zero vegetable consumption on the days they were surveyed and 1 out of 5 1-year-olds had eaten no vegetables at all on days they were surveyed.

Study results say about 26 percent of 1-year-olds ate French fries the day before the survey while 7.5 percent ate dark green vegetables and 17 percent ate deep yellow vegetables. (Shout out to the caretakers of the 7.5 and the 17.)

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends young children have vegetables with every meal and snack.