The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


First lady boosts new guidelines to school meal professionals


First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
speak about new nutrition standards for school meals
at Parklawn Elementary School in Alexandria, Va., last week. (USDA/Bob Nichols)

In a letter with political overtones, First Lady Michelle Obama has appealed to the nation’s school food service professionals to implement the Agriculture Department's new healthier meal guidelines.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack released the guidelines last week at an Alexandria, Va., elementary school event which the first lady attended.

“I wanted to write you all because we couldn’t have made it to this day without you,” Obama wrote in the letter, which was posted today on the School Nutrition Association website. “Every day you all are on the front lines of child nutrition and child hunger.”

“You’re dealing with tight budgets, limited resources, and more responsibilities,” Obama wrote. “Yet you pour heart and soul into your work to make sure that your students learn and grow in both the classroom and the lunchroom. I’ve seen it first-hand, all across the country.”

The letter appears intended to make sure that the school professionals, teachers, food service directors, operators and school chefs to whom it is addressed are aware that their efforts are appreciated.

The School Nutrition Association has endorsed the guidelines, but has expressed concerns about what they will mean to the cost of meals and how complicated it will be to comply with reductions in such ingredients as sodium and fats. The new guidelines, implemented under the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, include a 6 cent increase in the federal payments for school lunches that meet the guidelines, but USDA changed some rules to reduce the costs, especially for school breakfasts.

One of the rule changes is that schools will not be required to serve meat for breakfast.

“While we’ve made a lot of progress in the past two years, there is much work ahead,” Obama wrote. “But I know that if everyone — parents, business leaders, public officials and community leaders like you — does their part, then we can ensure all of our children can grow up healthy and pursue their dreams.”