U.S. states sue Trump administration over school lunch rules

NEW YORK (AP) — Six states and the District of Columbia sued the Department of Agriculture on Wednesday, saying it weakened nutritional standards in school breakfasts and lunches when it relaxed the requirements affecting salt and refined grains last year.

The lawsuit in Manhattan federal court asked a judge to overturn the changes, saying they were carried out in an arbitrary and capricious manner.

The government "significantly weakened" nutritional standards for sodium and whole grains, according to the lawsuit, without giving the public a chance to comment on them and in opposition to nutritional requirements for school meals set by Congress.

The states and D.C. said the standards should be based on recommendations of the U.S. government's "Dietary Guidelines for Americans," the National Academy of Sciences and scientific research regarding children's nutrition.

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Learn fresh school lunch-making ideas from Kraft Kitchen's Chef Carrie Conway and tips that you've never heard before.

Mix Salty and Sweet.

"Kids tend to enjoy sweet and salty combinations that give them the best of both flavor profiles," explains Conway. "Salty pretzels and sweet PHILADELPHIA Strawberry cream cheese spread or cinnamon swirl bread with cheddar cheese and apple slices are two kid-friendly options."

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Keep it fresh.

"Freeze certain contents of the lunch box to help make sure your child’s food stays cold," Conway shares. "Place drink boxes or reusable water bottles half full of water in the freezer the night before. They’ll thaw out by lunchtime while keeping everything cool."

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Balance Your Meals.

"When it comes to lunch, it’s all about balance," remarks Conway. "You want something that you know your child will eat, but that’s also nutritious and will leave them satisfied." The chef opts to fill lunch bags with a combination of foods in small portions such as berries, carrot sticks, turkey "roll-ups" and graham crackers.

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Get Creative.

Conway recommends trying some fresh takes on old favorites. Swap out your peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a cream cheese, raisin and banana sandwich. For deli sandwiches, try using a flavored cream cheese instead of traditional mustard or mayo.

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Plan Ahead.

"Create a lunchbox planner on Sunday to write out what will go in the kids’ lunches each day," advises Conway. "Involve kids by allowing them to 'place their order' – and make suggestions for the week." You can also prepare your fruits and vegetables in snack bags the night before to make the morning a breeze. "If you have multiple lunches to pack each day, create a morning assembly line to help things move quickly and make the kids feel part of the lunch prep."

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Make It Safe For Everyone.

Conway advises, "If you know your kid is a sharer, it’s a good idea to keep their lunchbox allergen-free. Stick to including safer options such as rice crackers, grapes or string cheese. Individually wrapped items that are clearly marked with allergen warnings are another option."

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Simplify Dessert.

There is no reason to get elaborate when thinking up dessert options for the lunch box. Conway recommends fresh fruit or pretzels with Caramel Apple Dip. "Kids will love the sweet and creamy taste, while parents will feel good knowing that they’re finishing their fruit and pairing it with a sweet treat made with real ingredients, like milk and cream."

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Offer a Bit of Everything.

"Try to make sure that their lunch meal contains a variety of delicious options that offer a healthy balance of fun foods so they don’t feel 'cheated' in their lunchbox," says Conway.

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Stock your fridge smartly.

Don't fill your fridge with a lot of food; fill it with the right food. "Focus on purchasing items that can do double (or triple) duty," Chef Conway explains. "Flexible condiments like flavored cream cheese will work not only for your breakfast bagel, but for sandwich spreads at lunch or stirred into your dinner dish."

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Get the whole family on board!

There is no need to pack lunches all by yourself. "Let kids help," advises Conway. "Not only will you have an extra set of little hands in the kitchen, if they have a say in what goes into their lunch bag, they’ll be more likely to eat it. Allow them to choose from different options, or let them pick one item of their choice."

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The USDA school lunch program provides low-cost or free lunches and breakfasts in public schools and other institutions. Last year, it served an estimated 30 million children.

An email seeking comment was sent to the Justice Department.

New York Attorney General Letitia James led the multistate civil legal action, saying in a release that over a million children in New York depend daily on the meals.

"The Trump Administration has undermined key health benefits for our children — standards for salt and whole grains in school meals — with deliberate disregard for science, expert opinion, and the law," she said.

The other plaintiffs are California, Illinois, Minnesota, New Mexico, Vermont and the District of Columbia.

The lawsuit was filed after the Trump administration late last year scaled back contested school lunch standards implemented under the Obama administration, including one requiring that only whole grains be served.

At the time of the reversal, the Department of Agriculture said it wanted to reduce bureaucracy that required schools to get special waivers in order to serve select refined grains foods.

The changes made by the Trump administration also permitted low-fat chocolate milk to be served again where only fat-free milk had been permitted to be flavored.

The department has said 20% of schools last year applied for exemptions to the whole-grain rule, most frequently so they could serve pasta, tortillas, biscuits and grits.

The 2018 changes still required schools to reduce sodium in foods in stages, but they eliminated a final target for reduced sodium.

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