Ag Secretary Visits Leesburg to Announce Relaxed School Meal Regulations

Exactly one week after Sonny Perdue was sworn in as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, he pulled up a seat at a school cafeteria table in Leesburg to enjoy a chicken-nugget lunch with students.

His stop at Catoctin Elementary School today was his first public visit in his new role and it was about more than chicken nuggets. After he chatted with students, he stepped in front of a podium and a dozen cameras to announce a plan to relax some of the federal guidelines that regulate school meals.

He signed a proclamation that will delay the more stringent rules for wholegrain and sodium levels that were set to go into effect next school year. The regulations are the “second tier” of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act championed by Michelle Obama and signed into law in 2010 by President Barack Obama.

The proclamation signed by Perdue also allows public schools to serve 1 percent chocolate and strawberry milk, instead of the current rule that allows only non-fat flavored milks to be served. “I wouldn’t be as big as I am today without chocolate milk,” said Perdue, who served as governor of Georgia from 2003 to 2011. “And the kids told me that the flavored milk limited to non-fat was not as tasty as they would like, so we’re allowing 1 percent flavored milk.”

Perdue said his office wants to have time to study the impacts of the stricter guidelines and make a decision on whether to move forward with them or, more likely, reverse them. He noted that schools nationwide are reporting that more food is ending up in the trash and the number of students participating in school breakfast and lunch programs has declined.

“We all know that meals can’t be nutritious if they’re not consumed—if they’re in the trash,” Perdue said. “We have to balance the sodium content, the wholegrain content with the palpability.”

Speaking to members of the press, alongside Senate agriculture committee chairman U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), Perdue asked if they could imagine a 100 percent wholegrain biscuit or a wholegrain grits. “It just doesn’t work,” he added.

[Watch the full press conference on Loudoun Now’s Facebook page.]

Loudoun County has actually bucked the national trend and seen an increase in students eating school breakfast and lunch in recent years. Director of Nutrition Services Becky Domokos-Bays has hosted taste tests and surveyed students to gather feedback on menu items. She’s partnered with Loudoun County farmers to bring more local produce into the school cafeterias, and last year she launched a grab-and-go breakfast program that helped boost breakfast participation by 28 percent districtwide.

But Domokos-Bays told Loudoun Now after the press conference that the stricter regulations that were set to begin this fall would make it more difficult to bring kids to the cafeteria table. Already her team has tested out lower-sodium soups and many kids won’t touch it. The school system got a waiver this year from the federal requirement to serve wholegrain pastas because it would fall apart before it even made it on to kids’ trays.

“It’s difficult,” she said. An 8-ounce carton of milk already counts toward 10 percent of the amount of sodium allowed under federal rules, she added. “If you do the math, you get to the limit very quickly.”

Protesters stand in front of Catoctin Elementary ahead of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s announcement to delay the implementation of some school meal regulations. [Photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now]
Perdue’s visit, particularly his announcement to roll back school meal standards, was met with criticism from a crowd of protesters outside the school. About two dozen people gathered with signs and asked passersby to “honk in support of the kids.”

Leesburg resident Deanna Lavanty kept her two sons, one in second grade and one in fourth grade at Catoctin, out of school today and instead joined the protest. They snacked on apples and read a book while they waited for Perdue to arrive.

“We are not happy with the politicizing of the event,” Lavanty said. She added that she wouldn’t have protested if Perdue’s visit was about providing students with a lesson in how the USDA works, or some other educational message. “But to sign something like this at a school when it’s actually going to hurt kids—it just doesn’t add up. To me it’s deceptive.”

Michael Martin, director of Elementary Education in Loudoun, said the secretary’s stop in Leesburg was apolitical. His chance to visit with students over lunch was kept separate from the signing ceremony and press conference. Perdue also stopped by C.S. Monroe Technology Center to talk with students studying agriculture.

Because of Loudoun’s proximity to the nation’s capitol, the school system has hosted federal leaders before. Its nutrition program was in the spotlight again a year ago when USDA’s Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services’ Deputy Undersecretary Katie Wilson visited Frederick Douglass Elementary, also in Leesburg, to applaud its efforts to bring more students in for breakfast.

“We really see these visits as an opportunity to recognize what Dr. Bays has done. She makes sure the food is healthy and nutritious—and that it tastes good,” Martin said. “[Perdue’s] coming to visit a school where the nutrition program is one of the best in the country.”

Members of the press fight to get their shots of Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue at Catoctin Elementary. [Photo by Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now]
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8 thoughts on “Ag Secretary Visits Leesburg to Announce Relaxed School Meal Regulations

  • 2017-05-02 at 9:19 am

    I attended the civil protest yesterday. As did many of our concerned parents, elected officials and supporters. I’m appalled, mortified and disgusted by 45 and his minions. I will fight this regime with everything in my power. My sons rose from Catoctin. “A-political” my a**. BLATANTLY POLITICAL. Let’s not tell lies people. Keep it real and DO YOUR JOBS LCPS! Shame on whomever scheduled this man to come to our community. 35% of children at Catoctin received free and reduced lunch. And this is what this overweight, blowhard has to say?:

    The proclamation signed by Perdue also allows public schools to serve 1 percent chocolate and strawberry milk, instead of the current rule that allows only non-fat flavored milks to be served. “I wouldn’t be as big as I am today without chocolate milk,” said Perdue, who served as governor of Georgia from 2003 to 2011. “And the kids told me that the flavored milk limited to non-fat was not as tasty as they would like, so we’re allowing 1 percent flavored milk.”

    Stop it.

  • 2017-05-02 at 10:01 am

    Of course. 1 percent chocolate milk is most certainly the end of life on planet earth as we know it. The horror!

    Because it’s so much better when a Washington insider lectures us serfs about what our kids really want, while stuffing her mouth full of burgers, pizza, chocolate milkshakes and fries…

  • 2017-05-02 at 10:18 am

    These crazy Loudoun Dems don’t understand that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. As the article said, we had federal officials use LCPS schools for announcements last year. And the Obamas were constantly in Fairfax schools making announcements. Same goes for Trump officials.

    This is common sense deregulation. Not only will kids not eat that bland stuff but there is no scientific basis for the restrictions. If you look at sodium “limits”, they are based almost entirely on a small segment of the population for whom salt has a negative effect. Sodium has little effect on the majority of people. And if you have ever been around athletic young kids, you know they are often hungry. Just because some kids won’t get out of their seat or can’t control their diet doesn’t mean we should limit the calories for the rest.

    The comment above is just another example of the nanny state mentality. Not only are they intent on micro-managing their own kids with an organic, gluten-free diet but they want to thrust that on the rest of the public. (they don’t seem to understand that puts $$$$ in the pockets of agri-business as it’s much costlier to produce) Keep making fools of yourselves and “resisting”. We don’t care if you never come back to reality.

  • 2017-05-02 at 4:45 pm

    So this was not a political event? Then why sign it in a school where the program is working and in a BLUE County? Why were parents not informed until the very last minute???? Why not sign it in the Agriculture building with #45 standing next to the Ag Secretary? Some ask why was it ok for Michele Obama to do the same-visit schools and speak for her idea of a healthy lunch–because what she was doing was GOOD for children. this is not. This is one more swipe at the Obamas by #45–he cant; stand that he is so unpopular. I was one of the protestors at the Catoctin ES and was there to protest the proposed degradation of the standards for school lunches that Trump Administration’s Secretary Perdue was ordering. The healthy lunch program that is in place now was put in by the Obama Administration at the urging of the First Lady Michele Obama in 2012 to help stop the tremendous increase in obesity of our population. She also advocated for exercise programs along with healthy eating realizing that we need to do both to have a healthy life style.
    The program complements what is taught in health classes in all Loudoun County Virginia schools. It is unfortunate that the Trump Administration does not realize that healthy children grow into healthy adults. This in turn leads to reduced medical costs and provides a healthy and fit workforce. Shouldn’t the schools set the example for healthy eating to go along with the classes that are taught?
    In this very rich county there are over 12,000 students who qualify for free or reduced lunches and many Loudoun County Churches provide week-end food for many of these through the Back-Pack Buddy program. In addition, nearly half of the thousands of people that the Loudoun Hunger Relief Organization provides food for, are children. So, shouldn’t the limited amount food we provide our children in schools be nutritional and healthy instead of salty and fatty? The Environmental Working Group and the American Heart Association think so and so do I.
    Tony Fasolo

  • 2017-05-02 at 8:40 pm

    Tony, in case you didn’t know, kids need fat in their diet. Kids have been drinking whole milk for decades without problems. And many adult diets advocate protein and fat instead of carbs.

    Most adults don’t eat this stuff. Why don’t you ask your favorite Italian restaurant for whole grain pasta next time you visit and watch the look you receive.

    This was not a lowering of the standards. It was facing reality. You are entitled to your opinion. You are not entitled to say only Dems get to visit schools. Many of us disagreed with the regulations put in by Obama and are glad they are being reversed. Btw, Michelle Obama put on quite a bit of weight while implementing the “healthy meals” program. If she exercises, she is probably still healthy. Either way, it is her choice.

  • 2017-05-03 at 12:07 pm

    So because Loudoun voted “blue” we should not allow a cabinet secretary to step foot in the county? Do you wish to expel the 82,255 Loudoun voters who voted for someone other than Clinton too? Are we no longer welcome in Loudoun Mr. Fasolo? Sounds like that’s where you’re coming from.

    Do you think Michelle Obama’s (never elected to anything) kids ate the slop she decreed with Stalin-esque zeal, our kids were forced to eat? Do you think she ever ate the crap other than at photo ops? Can you imagine how much food was wasted nationwide during the creepy “food-control” decree? Was any Loudoun parent ever asked once, if this was what they wanted for their kids? Just one? Nope. We were told what our kids would be served, and that was it.

    You’re protesting chocolate milk for little kids Mr. Fasolo. Chocolate milk?

    I think this is a one off for you Mr. Fasolo. I consider you one of the more reasonable democrats in our community.

  • 2017-05-08 at 3:28 pm

    ” Btw, Michelle Obama put on quite a bit of weight”

    So classy but, let’s face it- not exactly an original line of attack. Kinda weak stew when you go after a female politician’s weight (yes the FLOTUS is a politician). Grading on a curve after considering the author= solid C work

    For a more original and amusing take you gotta read some Manthos. He starts with the classic straw man-

    “Do you wish to expel the 82,255 Loudoun voters who voted for someone other than Clinton too? ”

    Kinda weak and predictable straw man. Maybe a good example of what passes for discourse at say, the local hipster libertarian party meeting hosted at Starbucks, but there’s more-

    ” kids ate the slop she decreed with Stalin-esque zeal”

    Slop and Stalin-esque in the same sentence? Our kinds being forced to participate in some communist party workers lunch complete with “creepy” fat Russian women serving gruel? Michele Obama giggling in the background as she fulfills her role in the UN world takeover?

    Dude, well done. A plus work. The language inspired visuals and that’s all an author can ask for.

    I’d like to thank this site for continuing to host such comment threads. I cannot find this sort of ‘conversation’ among my social circles and I find it truly enlightening.

  • 2017-05-09 at 6:25 pm

    Thanks Mr. AFF. I always enjoy your critiques. The miasma of smugness, superiority, mixed with a pinch of reality are unbeatable.

    Fat ruskie women serving gruel… I love it! Can’t wait to tell my social circle about it; they’ll laugh themselves silly. We should party sometime — sounds like you’re in desperate need of some diversity in your social circle.

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