President Donald Trump’s administration said Friday that it planned to roll back school breakfast and lunch nutrition guidelines that were championed by Michelle Obama. And it chose the former first lady’s 56th birthday to make the announcement. The change in guidelines proposed by the Agriculture Department would give schools more freedom to cut the number of vegetables and fruits they serve at breakfast and lunch while also opening the door to more French fries, burgers, and pizza. The food industry lobby had long been pushing for the change, which was immediately decried by nutritionists, who said it would allow schools to once again serve fattening foods as “snacks.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture said it was not their intention to roll out the proposed change on Obama’s birthday, “although some Democratic aides on Capitol Hill had their doubts,” notes the New York Times.
The proposed new rules will give schools more flexibility to determine standards “because they know their children best,” the Agriculture Department said in a statement. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said that the proposed changes have to do with schools saying “there is still too much food waste and that more common-sense flexibility is needed to provide students nutritious and appetizing meals.”
Critics were quick to point out that the Trump administration was effectively making it easier for schools to serve meals that are less healthy under the guise of simplifying the system. If implemented, the proposed new rules “would create a huge loophole in school nutrition guidelines, paving the way for children to choose pizza, burgers, french fries and other foods high in calories, saturated fat or sodium in place of balanced school meals every day,” warned Colin Schwartz, deputy director of legislative affairs for Center for Science in the Public Interest. The move would likely increase the amount of potatoes in school meals, Schwartz warned.
This is not the first time the Trump administration has moved to roll back rules that sought to make school meals healthier. The Center for Science in the Public Interest and attorneys general from six states and the District of Columbia sued over a December 2018 change, arguing it put millions of children at risk.