By CHRIS MORRIS
Adirondack Daily Enterprise
The federal government has backed off some of the stricter caloric limits placed on school meals earlier this year, a move that's drawing praise from some school officials and Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Owens.
The guidelines, set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in accordance with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, set daily and weekly limits on grains and meats. Some school districts responded by saying the guidelines left kids hungry at the end of the day. The caloric limits also became politicized in the race for New York's 21st Congressional District, with Republican congressional candidate Matt Doheny targeting Owens for voting for the legislation that led to the guidelines.
The 21st District includes Fulton and Hamilton counties.
Owens and other federal lawmakers pressured USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to do away with limits on meats and grains, and earlier this month, Vilsack did just that.
"USDA set guidelines for school lunches that just didn't work for many students, parents and school administrators," Owens said in a prepared statement. "It is my hope that eliminating the limit on grains and meat will give school districts the flexibility they need to provide school lunches that are both healthy and sufficient. However, I will look to local administrators for guidance to determine if additional changes are required."
Owens said many school administrators felt the guidelines were too strict. He called the USDA's response to criticism of the guidelines "reasonable."
"I think we now have to sit and see how students and parents and school administrators find this change, whether or not it has the impact that they had hoped: where students, again, are back buying meals in school," Owens said.
Owens said dietitians think the revised rules still meet the goal of providing healthier meals for kids.
"I think from that perspective, we're moving in the right direction. It's going to take a little time to find out whether or not this does the trick completely."
Owens said he hasn't heard feedback - positive or negative - on the changes, although they've only been in place for a couple of weeks.
"The people who had communicated with us before have not reached out again," he said.
Lake Placid Central School District Superintendent Randy Richards said he received a copy of the new regulations last week and plans to review them with his cafeteria staff soon. He said he's glad the USDA listened to school administrators' concerns.
"Each district has got to decide what works for them," Richards said.