Perdue defends school lunch policy reversal during Atlanta visit

Perdue says the changes give school districts the flexibility to make meals kids will actually eat. (Image: MGN)

Former Georgia governor and current U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is defending his decision to ease rules about school lunches.

Back in May, he announced a plan to relax regulations on salt in meals.

Under Perdue's directive schools can also ask for an exemption from the whole grain requirement and can serve milk with 1 percent fat.

Speaking to school nutritionists in Atlanta Wednesday, the secretary said the food at school isn't the problem.

"If you look at the obesity epidemic out there, it's not happening at schools it's happening at home and on the way to and from school," Perdue said.

Perdue says the changes give school districts the flexibility to make meals kids will actually eat.

Perdue, a former governor of Georgia, said some schools in the South have had problems with grits, because "the whole grain variety has little black flakes in it" and kids won't eat it.

"The school is compliant with the whole-grain requirements, but no one is eating the grits," Perdue said. "That doesn't make any sense."

Perdue said the department will work on long-term solutions to help schools that say the Obama administration standards are too restrictive. The changes reflect suggestions from the School Nutrition Association, which represents school nutrition directors and companies that sell food to schools.

The group often battled with the Obama administration, which phased in the healthier school meal rules starting in 2012. Obama pushed the changes as part of her "Let's Move" campaign to combat childhood obesity.

The Obama administration rules set fat, sugar and sodium limits on foods in the lunch line and beyond. Schools have long been required to follow government nutrition rules if they accept federal reimbursements for free and reduced-price meals for low-income students, but these standards were stricter.

The Trump administration changes leave most of the Obama administration rules in place, including rules that students must take fruits and vegetables on the lunch line. Some schools have asked for changes to that policy, saying students often throw them away.

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