First lady fires back at school meal critics

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First lady fires back at school meal critics
First lady Michelle Obama, listens to Eric Goldstein, Chief Executive, Office of School Support Services, New York City Department of Education, speaks during a discussion with other school leaders and experts surrounding school nutrition in an event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex, Tuesday, May 27, 2014. The meeting provided an opportunity for the Michelle Obama to hear directly from them about the work they are doing to improve school nutrition in their local districts. She stressed the importance of students, parents, school officials, community leaders, and health advocates coming together to protect and advance the tremendous progress that has been made in schools across our country. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
First lady Michelle Obama, right, with Eric Goldstein, left, Chief Executive, Office of School Support Services, New York City Dept. of Education and Donna Martin, center, School Nutrition Program, Burke County Board of Education, in Georgia, speaks during a discussion with other school leaders and experts surrounding school nutrition in an event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex, Tuesday, May 27, 2014. The meeting provided an opportunity for the Michelle Obama to hear directly from them about the work they are doing to improve school nutrition in their local districts. She stressed the importance of students, parents, school officials, community leaders, and health advocates coming together to protect and advance the tremendous progress that has been made in schools across our country. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
First lady Michelle Obama listens as Donna Martin, director School Nutrition Program, Burke County Board of Education in Georgia, speaks during a discussion with other school leaders and experts surrounding school nutrition in an event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, Tuesday, May 27, 2014. The meeting provided an opportunity for the Michelle Obama to hear directly from them about the work they are doing to improve school nutrition in their local districts. She stressed the importance of students, parents, school officials, community leaders, and health advocates coming together to protect and advance the tremendous progress that has been made in schools across our country. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
First lady Michelle Obama joins a discussion with school leaders and experts surrounding school nutrition in an event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, Tuesday, May 27, 2014. The meeting provided an opportunity for the Michelle Obama to hear directly from them about the work they are doing to improve school nutrition in their local districts. She stressed the importance of students, parents, school officials, community leaders, and health advocates coming together to protect and advance the tremendous progress that has been made in schools across our country. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Shirley Watkins, former Agriculture Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, and past President of the School Nutrition Association, cheers as she recounts her reaction to first lady Michelle Obama's efforts to reform school food programs, Tuesday, May 27, 2014, while attending a meeting with other school leaders and experts surrounding school nutrition in an event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. The meeting provided an opportunity for the Michelle Obama to hear directly from them about the work they are doing to improve school nutrition in their local districts. She stressed the importance of students, parents, school officials, community leaders, and health advocates coming together to protect and advance the tremendous progress that has been made in schools across our country. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
First lady Michelle Obama, seated with Eric Goldstein, chief executive officer, Office of School Support Services, New York City Department of Education, left, and Donna Martin, School Nutrition Program, Burke County Board of Education, in Georgia, speaks during a discussion with other school leaders and experts surrounding school nutrition in an event, Tuesday, May 27, 2014, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. The meeting provided an opportunity for the Michelle Obama to hear directly from them about the work they are doing to improve school nutrition in their local districts. She stressed the importance of students, parents, school officials, community leaders, and health advocates coming together to protect and advance the tremendous progress that has been made in schools across our country. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
First lady Michelle Obama, right, reacts as Marla Caplon, left, Director of Division of Food and Nutrition Services for Montgomery County Public schools in Maryland, speaks as she joins a discussion with school leaders and experts surrounding school nutrition in an event in Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, Tuesday, May 27, 2014. The meeting provided an opportunity for the Michelle Obama to hear directly from them about the work they are doing to improve school nutrition in their local districts. She stressed the importance of students, parents, school officials, community leaders, and health advocates coming together to protect and advance the tremendous progress that has been made in schools across our country. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
First lady Michelle Obama speaks to school leaders and experts surrounding school nutrition, Tuesday, May 27, 2014, in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington. The meeting provided an opportunity for the Michelle Obama to hear directly from them about the work they are doing to improve school nutrition in their local districts. She stressed the importance of students, parents, school officials, community leaders, and health advocates coming together to protect and advance the tremendous progress that has been made in schools across our country. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
First lady Michelle Obama walks in to join a discussion with school leaders and experts surrounding school nutrition in an event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex, Tuesday, May 27, 2014. The meeting provided an opportunity for the Michelle Obama to hear directly from them about the work they are doing to improve school nutrition in their local districts. She stressed the importance of students, parents, school officials, community leaders, and health advocates coming together to protect and advance the tremendous progress that has been made in schools across our country. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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By MARY CLARE JALONICK

WASHINGTON (AP) -- First lady Michelle Obama is striking back at House Republicans who are trying to weaken healthier school meal standards, saying any effort to roll back the guidelines is "unacceptable."

The rules set by Congress and the administration over the last several years require more whole grains in the lunch line and set limits on sodium, sugar and fat. The first lady met Tuesday with school nutrition officials who said the guidelines are working in their schools.

The event was an unusual move for the first lady, who has largely stayed away from policy fights since she lobbied for congressional passage of a child nutrition law in 2010.

"The last thing we can afford to do is play politics with kids' health," Mrs. Obama told participants.

An agriculture spending bill approved by a House subcommittee last week would allow schools to waive the standards if they have a net loss on school food programs for a six-month period. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., who wrote the bill, said he was responding to requests from school food directors. The House Appropriations Committee is expected to approve the spending bill this week.

At the White House event, school nutrition directors from New York City to Los Angeles to a rural county in Georgia told the first lady success stories about implementing the standards and said they would be disappointed to see any roll backs.

"We're not just talking about food, we're talking about education," said David Binkle of the Los Angeles Unified School District. He said participation is up in his district, along with test scores and graduation rates.

The first lady asked the group for advice about how they can better respond to schools that are struggling, and suggested that the conversation should be focused on helping those schools rather than rolling back some of the standards completely. She said the government and schools can also do more to work with students to get them interested in what they are eating.

The guidelines have been phased in over the past two school years, with more changes coming in 2014. The School Nutrition Association, which represents school nutrition directors and companies that sell food to schools, has lobbied for changes to the standards.

The president of the group said Tuesday that the school nutrition officials invited to the White House aren't representative of those who have concerns.

"Our request for flexibility under the new standards does not come from industry or politics, it comes from thousands of school cafeteria professionals who have shown how these overly prescriptive regulations are hindering their effort to get students to eat healthy school meals," said SNA's Leah Schmidt.

The schools pushing for changes say limits on sodium and requirements for more whole grains are particularly challenging, while some school officials say kids are throwing away fruits and vegetables that are required.

The Agriculture Department, which administers the rules, has tweaked them along the way to try to help schools that have concerns. The department scrapped limits on the amount of proteins and grains that kids could eat after students complained they were hungry. Last week, USDA announced it would allow some schools to delay serving whole grain pastas just hours after the House subcommittee approved the opt-out language.

Not all school groups are lobbying for changes. The national PTA is pushing lawmakers to keep the standards intact.

"At a time when families are working hard to live healthy lives, school meals should be supporting families' efforts, not working against them," PTA President Otha Thornton wrote to members of Congress.

---
Previously:

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First lady fires back at school meal critics
First lady Michelle Obama wears stickers on her face that where placed on her by 20-month-old Lily Oppelt, from Indiana, during her visit with Wounded Warriors being cared for at the Fisher House at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Monday, April 14, 2014. The first lady is participating in a pre-Easter celebration with military families and their children. The Fisher House provides extend stay housing program for family members while their loved ones receiving specialized medical care at Walter Reed. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
First lady Michelle Obama meets with six-month-old Kyleigh Garmon, and her mother Megan Garmon, from Alabama, during her visit to the Wounded Warriors being cared for at the Fisher House at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Monday, April 14, 2014. The first lady is participating in a pre-Easter celebration with military families and their children. The Fisher House provides extend stay housing program for family members while their loved ones receiving specialized medical care at Walter Reed. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
First lady Michelle Obama has a sticker placed on her face by 20-month-old Lily Oppelt, as her parents Amy and Sgt. Lucas Oppelt, far right, from Indiana, watch during her visit with Wounded Warriors being cared for at the Fisher House at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Monday, April 14, 2014. The first lady is participating in a pre-Easter celebration with military families and their children. The Fisher House provides extend stay housing program for family members while their loved ones receiving specialized medical care at Walter Reed. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
First lady Michelle Obama has sticker placed on her face by 20-month-oldLily Oppelt as her parents Amy and Sgt. Lucas Oppelt, far right, from Indiana, watch during her visit with Wounded Warriors being cared for at the Fisher House at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Monday, April 14, 2014. The first lady is participating in a pre-Easter celebration with military families and their children. The Fisher House provides extend stay housing program for family members while their loved ones receiving specialized medical care at Walter Reed. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
First lady Michelle Obama has stickers placed on her face by 20-month-old Lily Oppelt as her parents Amy and Sgt. Lucas Oppelt, far right, from Indiana, watch during her visit with Wounded Warriors being cared for at the Fisher House at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Monday, April 14, 2014. The first lady is participating in a pre-Easter celebration with military families and their children. The Fisher House provides extend stay housing program for family members while their loved ones receiving specialized medical care at Walter Reed. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
First lady Michelle Obama has a sticker placed on her face by 20-month-old Lily Oppelt, as her parents Amy and Sgt. Lucas Oppelt, far right, from Indiana, watch during her visit with Wounded Warriors being cared for at the Fisher House at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Monday, April 14, 2014. The first lady is participating in a pre-Easter celebration with military families and their children. The Fisher House provides extend stay housing program for family members while their loved ones receiving specialized medical care at Walter Reed. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
First lady Michelle Obama meets with Wounded Warriors being cared for at the Fisher House at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Monday, April 14, 2014. The first lady is participating in a pre-Easter celebration with military families and their children. The Fisher House provides extend stay housing program for family members while their loved ones receiving specialized medical care at Walter Reed. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
First lady Michelle Obama meets with Wounded Warriors being cared for at the Fisher House at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Monday, April 14, 2014. The first lady is participating in a pre-Easter celebration with military families and their children. The Fisher House provides extend stay housing program for family members while their loved ones receiving specialized medical care at Walter Reed. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
First lady Michelle Obama passes out a basket of cookies made by the White House pastry chef, during her meeting with Wounded Warriors being cared for at the Fisher House at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Monday, April 14, 2014. The first lady is participating in a pre-Easter celebration with military families and their children. The Fisher House provides extend stay housing program for family members while their loved ones receiving specialized medical care at Walter Reed. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
First lady Michelle Obama, with her dogs Bo and Sonny, arrive to meet with Wounded Warriors being cared for at the Fisher House at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Monday, April 14, 2014. The first lady is participating in a pre-Easter celebration with military families and their children. The Fisher House provides extend stay housing program for family members while their loved ones receiving specialized medical care at Walter Reed. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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