WASHINGTON — Eating healthy food isn't always cheap, and some conservatives in Congress are concerned that the Obama administration's effort to make school lunches more nutritious is a luxury the nation can't afford.
Many schools, especially the poorest ones, agree. They say new rules issued by the Agriculture Department in January will require them to buy pricier foods and more equipment at a time when federal and state budgets are tight and food costs are rising.
The new menus will cost an additional 14 cents a meal, according to the Agriculture Department. A spending bill approved Tuesday in the House Appropriations Committee estimates that the new lunch rules could cost schools an additional $7 billion over five years. Saying that "unrealistic demands" can lead to burdensome costs, the Republican bill directs USDA to rewrite the rules so they wouldn't force schools to spend additional money.
Under the USDA rules, schools would have to cut sodium in subsidized meals for low-income children by more than half, use more whole grains and serve low-fat milk. They also would limit kids to only one cup of starchy vegetables a week, so schools couldn't offer french fries every day.
Schools also have expressed concern about requirements to serve more dark-green vegetables. According to Diane Pratt-Heavner of the School Nutrition Association, which represents school lunch workers, many schools have struggled to get kids to try spinach, collard greens and turnip greens and have had more luck with broccoli and lettuce.