Health experts disagree with new school lunch rule

The U.S. Agriculture Department released a new school lunch rule Wednesday that would let cafeterias skip the whole grains and serve salty food, as well as sweetened milk.

Health experts gave the new rule an “F” and said a return to unhealthy standards is not the way to get kids to eat better.

The USDA included similar rules in May as part of temporary budget legislation. Wednesday’s announcement would solidify the rules.

“Schools need flexibility in menu planning so they can serve nutritious and appealing meals,” U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a statement.

“The interim final rule published today gives schools the option to serve low-fat (1 percent) flavored milk. Currently, schools are permitted to serve low-fat and non-fat unflavored milk as well as non-fat flavored milk,” the USDA added.

Related: School lunches are getting healthier

RELATED: Do School Lunches Make You Sick?

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As we come upon the back to school season, keep these key school lunch tips in mind.

Freeze your bread. My sister who makes five lunches every night, makes the sandwiches on frozen bread which defrosts by the time her kids eat lunch, but keeps the sandwich insides cooler. Yogurts and cheese can be frozen as well and left to defrost in the few hours before lunch.

Image Credit: Adam Gault/Getty Images

If you make lunch the night before, make sure to keep it refrigerated until it is time to walk out the door.

Image Credit: Stewart Cohen/Getty Images

When in doubt, throw it out. If you aren’t sure when you bought the turkey or salami, don’t take the risk. If bacteria are already lurking, a lunch bag is an ideal setting for them to grow.

Image Credit: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Ingredients that won’t go bad, and are great for school trips:

  1. peanut butter and jelly
  2. whole fruit and dried fruit
  3. snack packs

Image Credit: Richard Eskite Photography/Getty Images

If your child eats a lunch prepared at school, the following tips apply to them as well.

  1. Remind kids to wash their hands before lunch, especially after using the bathroom. eColi, which is found in feces, is a common causative agent of food poisoning.
  2. Teach them to keep their food off the table and on a napkin instead.
  3. Avoid lunch sharing, especially with the increasing prevalence of food allergies.
  4. When possible, kids should avoid sharing out of the same bag, especially during cold and flu season.

Image Credit: Digital Vision/Getty Images

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“States will also be allowed to grant exemptions to schools experiencing hardship in obtaining whole grain-rich products acceptable to students during School Year (SY) 2018-2019.”

The new rule also gives schools a break until 2021 to provide “more time to procure and introduce lower sodium food products, allow food industry more time for product development and reformulation, and give students more time to adjust to school meals with lower sodium content.”

Perdue said kids are just throwing food away, but American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said that’s untrue and said schools are not struggling to meet the Obama-era standards aimed at getting kids to eat more nutritious meals.

Related: Agreement in Congress would loosen school lunch rules

“In the last five years, nearly 100 percent of the nation’s participating schools have complied with updated school meal standards. Kids across the country have clearly benefited from these changes,” Brown said in a statement.

“Their meals have less salt, sugar and saturated fat, and they eat 16 percent more vegetables and 23 percent more fruit. Why would the USDA want to roll back the current standards and reverse this excellent progress?”

The rules were part of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act signed by President Barack Obama and promoted by his wife, Michelle, as part of her "Let's Move" initiative.

RELATED: 50 back-to-school lunchbox ideas

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Pizza Roll-Ups

"Really easy and tasty. I added mushrooms and onions to mine."

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Yogurt Fruit Bars

"I made these to freeze and pack in the kids' lunches — they're so good! It was easy to sub in the ingredients I had on hand for a yummy treat."

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Ham & Cream Cheese Roll-Ups

"These roll-ups taste great. They're super easy to make and just delicious."

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Secret Sandwich

"These are so easy, yummy and a fun alternative to another boring sandwich. I used Hawaiian sweet rolls with turkey and Havarti, and they were delicious!"

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Lunchbox Pizza Quesadillas

"The whole family loved these. I used pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese. I will try freezing them for quick snacks for the kids."

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Peanut Butter & Jelly Sushi Rolls

"I made these for my 7-year-old's lunch. She was so excited! I put the whole rolls in the fridge overnight and sliced in the morning. They were much easier to slice cold."

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Copycat Pizza Lunchable

"I've been making the cheese-and-cracker Lunchables at home, but I never thought to make the pizza ones. My kindergartener loved it."

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BLT Pinwheels

"I made these for my grand kids and they loved them — as did their parents."

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Zucchini & Corn Muffins

"Very moist and yummy muffins with a nice crunchy crust — YUM! I liked how easy these were to prepare and how quickly they came together."

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Kiddos Favorite Trail Mix

"We had a blast making this. My kids polished off the whole batch and asked to make more."

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Frosted Pretzels

"This was a fun project. My kids and I had a good time putting them together."

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Banana & Oatmeal Sponge Cookies

"My kid love these cookies. They're a great, healthy snack on-the-go."

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Apples & Peanut Butter

"This is a delicious and healthy way to start the day."

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Ants on a Log

"I made up a batch of these for school lunchboxes. They are very good! We like these better than the ones with the peanut butter."

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No-Bake Granola Bars

"This gets a 'seriously yum' rating from me! They were easy to make and are pretty healthy too!"

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Two-Toned Sandwiches

"What a fun idea! I just used one cookie-cutter shape — a teddy bear — for my daughter's lunch yesterday. It worked great and she loved it!"

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Ham & Cheese Muffins

"Easy to make and delicious! Great for a quick snack, but would also be great for breakfast, lunch, dinner, brunch or tea — or elevenses, anyone? Yum!"

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Frozen Fruit Cups

"My kids loved these, and I love the fact that they don't have a lot of extra sugar. I put some in a large container for dinner and some into one-cup plastic freezer jars to use in lunchboxes."

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School of Fish

Your kids will go gaga for these little swimmers. It's amazing what you can do with four simple ingredients!

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Cheesy Pretzel Dippers

"I like opening up my lunchbox and finding these! I tell my friends they are magic cheese wands. They are awesome with honey Dijon mustard."

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Goldfish Checkerboard Sandwiches

"This was so fun! My son was a little freaked out by the white and wheat bread until I explained it was like a checkerboard. Then I made this when we had two extra kids over and it was a hit."

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Tortilla Stars

"This is a fantastic idea. They are everyone's favorite snack at my house."

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Cinnamon Apple Chips

"Fun and easy to make. Not very sweet at all, which I liked. Made a great snack alternative to potato chips."

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Pizza Scrolls

"I love these. They are perfect for my kids' lunchboxes, as they don't love traditional sandwiches. I will be using this recipe forever!"

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Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins

"My kids loved these. Mention was made of giving them 'a gazillion stars.' They were very tasty."

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Sweet & Salty Cereal Bars

"These are so good and so much cheaper than buying them in the grocery store! Definitely a keeper!"

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Cheesy Taco Pockets

"These are very family-friendly, and the cheese ties the ingredients together well. They are awesome with sour cream and salsa!"

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Thermos Noodle Soup

"I'm giving this recipe five stars for sheer simplicity. It also happens to taste really great. Soup with no stove? Yes, please."

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Lunchbox Muffins

"These are great! My 4-year-old is super picky, so her lunch-box gets a little boring — these are perfect. Next time I'm going to make a double batch!"

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Lunchbox Fun-Due

"Wonderful! This is such a great idea. My daughter isn't a big sandwich fan, so this really was right up her alley."

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Hummus Pizza

For a fun twist on a lunch-room favorite, try packing the veggies separately so your kiddo can build his or her own pizza at lunch.

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Snack Stackers (Lunchbox Surprise)

"Great idea! My first-grader loved it. He's always begging for the ones already made up at the store, which I refuse to buy."

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Taco Roll-Ups

"My daughter and her friend ate these and loved them. There are some more in the freezer that I am sure will be great!"

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Angry Birds Bento Box

"My son loves rice balls (onigiri), so I decided to make him an Angry Birds lunch box! My hubby was more impressed and snatched it for his office lunch instead!"

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California Rollwich

"I made this for my grandson. He loves avocados, so that made it easy to sneak in other veggies."

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Parmesan Puff Pastry Twists

"These were so easy and so delicious. I only had a small package of puff pastry and it worked just fine."

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Chocolate Peanut Butter Frogs

"These taste good and look adorable. They are great for a kids."

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Club Wraps

"What a wonderful lunch idea. These are just delicious."

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Ants on a Raft

"This is a yummy snack. I love that they're made with things that I always have around the house."

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Yummy to the Tummy Clocks

"This is a very cute idea for snack time."

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Cream Cheese & Cucumber Sailboats

"This is such a fun recipe for kids and adults alike. I love the cute look and the fresh taste."

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Lady Grapefruit

"What a great idea. This motivated me to look for more recipes where I can decorate food for my kids."

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Orange Julius Roll-Ups

"This is like a healthier way to make candy. It is a great recipe, I was very pleased."

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Zoo Cupcakes

Pick your kid's favorite animal to re-create as a tasty cupcake, or go hog-wild and make the whole zoo.

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Frozen Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches

"I pack three kids' lunches every day and it's something I dread, but this makes it so much better. Also great to keep on hand for a super-quick dinner or snack when you're running out the door."

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Ultimate Lunchbox Muffins

"These are so tasty and also have a lovely texture — very moist and soft on the inside, with a great crunchy crust. Who knew that healthy muffins could be this easy and tasty?!"

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Lunchbox Taco Chicken Soup

"Great recipe! My son always asks for me to make it to take in his school lunch."

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Nemo Clownfish Snacks

"Easy and cute - who doesn't love Nemo?"

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PB&J Apple Roll-Ups

"I made these for lunch and they were absolutely wonderful. I wouldn't change a thing."

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Muffin Weenies

"These were really easy to make, and they taste even better the next day. These are great quickie after-school snacks and are also very portable."

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention checked in 2015 to see how the new rules worked. More than 97 percent of schools offered a whole grain option at breakfast and 94 percent did at lunch in 2014, they found.

Nearly 80 percent offered two or more vegetables and two or more fruits for lunch although only just over half had moved from salty canned vegetables to low-sodium options.

“This new rule deserves an ‘F,'" Brown said. "It fails the test when it comes to helping our kids eat healthier at school."

Related: Schools rethink lunch policies that humiliate kids

Howell Wechsler, CEO of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, agreed.

“The changes proposed by the Flexibility Rule do not reflect the tremendous progress and success we have seen from schools across the country in meeting or exceeding national guidelines for healthier school meals,” he said in a statement.

“This rule will be in effect for school year 2018-2019,” the USDA said. “USDA will accept public comments on these flexibilities via www.regulations.gov to inform the development of a final rule, which will address the availability of these three flexibilities in the long term.” 

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