The Agriculture Department says 524 schools — out of about 100,000 — have dropped out of the federally subsidized national school lunch program since the government introduced new standards for healthier foods last year.
The new standards have been met with grumbling from school nutrition officials who say they are difficult and expensive to follow, conservatives who say the government shouldn’t be dictating what kids eat and — unsurprisingly — from some children who say the less-greasy food doesn’t taste as good. But USDA says the vast majority of schools are serving healthier food, with some success.
Data the department is planning to release today shows that 80 percent of schools say they have met the requirements, which went into place at the beginning of the 2012 school year. About a halfpercent have dropped out of the program.
In an effort to stem high childhood obesity levels, the new guidelines set limits on calories and salt, and phase in more whole grains in federally subsidized meals served in schools’ main lunch line. Schools must offer at least one vegetable or fruit per meal and comply with a variety of other specific nutrition requirements. The rules aim to introduce more nutrients to growing kids and also make old favorites healthier — pizza with low-fat cheese and whole-wheat crust, for example, or baked instead of fried potatoes.
If schools do not follow the rules, or if they drop out, they are not eligible for the federal dollars that reimburse them for free and low-cost meals served to low-income students.