Ag Sec. to Meet With School Nutritionists to ‘Improve Menus,' Make Lunch 'Great Again'

By Gage Cohen | July 5, 2017 | 12:19 PM EDT

School lunch programs suffer from unappealing offerings.

In response to dwindling participation in school lunch programs, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue will be attending the School Nutrition Association's (SNA) annual meeting next week in Atlanta, Ga., to discuss “improving menus, strengthening school meal programs, and expanding student access to healthy meals.”

“The event will give Secretary Perdue the opportunity to hear first-hand about successes and challenges as schools have worked to improve menus for students while meeting updated nutrition standards for meals and snacks,” said SNA in a press release.

Sec. Perdue has already begun to loosen wildly unpopular restrictions placed on school lunch menus by the Obama Administration spearheaded by former First Lady Michelle Obama.

At the beginning of May, Perdue previewed his plans to reform school nutrition standards. Perdue applauded Michelle Obama’s desire to combat childhood obesity, but cautioned that “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.”

"I wouldn't be as big as I am today without chocolate milk,” he remarked.

The harsh backlash against the former first lady’s infamous school lunch restrictions made national headlines during the Obama administration as school children took to social media to post photos of their tiny, unappetizing school lunches, often with the hashtag “#ThanksMichelleObama.”

“In Georgia, kids resisted the loss of their beloved fried chicken. In New Mexico, whole-wheat tortillas went straight to the trash can. And in Tennessee, after schools replaced familiar flaky white biscuits with a whole-grain variety, one official reported a ‘severe amount of rejection,’” reported The Washington Post in 2014.

In 2014, SNA CEO Patricia Montague wrote a letter to the former first lady on behalf of the SNA, requesting to meet with her to discuss concerns about the negative effects of the administration’s school lunch mandates.

Sec. Perdue has announced that, although the USDA would be keeping certain standards put in place by the prior administration, including those on milk and grains, the department will be allowing far more flexibility.

A press release entitled “Ag Secretary Perdue Moves to Make School Meals Great Again” made it clear that Perdue would permit more local control on the issue of school lunches.

“Perdue signed a proclamation which begins the process of restoring local control of guidelines on whole grains, sodium, and milk,” the release stated. “This announcement is the result of years of feedback from students, schools, and food service experts about the challenges they are facing in meeting the final regulations for school meals.”

After Sec. Perdue’s announcement, SNA was quick to praise his new policies. “School Nutrition Association is appreciative of Secretary Perdue's support of school meal programs in providing flexibility to prepare and serve healthy meals that are appealing to students,” said the SNA’s CEO, Patricia Montague.

The SNA’s annual national conference (ANC) will take place on July 12 and host more than 6,500 attendees. There, Perdue will deliver a speech at the closing session before meeting personally with SNA officials.

“Secretary Perdue will address ANC attendees at the Closing General Session and then meet with school nutrition professionals who serve on SNA’s incoming and outgoing Board of Directors – members elected to represent the broad range of school meal programs across the US,” said the SNA in a press release.