Certain kinds of pasta can be considered a vegetable for millions of public school meals, according to new rules proposed by Donald Trump's administration.
The new school guidelines released by the US Department of Agriculture last week would allow for more foods like pizza, burgers and french fries to appear on school menus as part of its sweeping revisions of a school lunch program from former First Lady Michelle Obama. Cuts to her signature policy under Barack Obama's administration — intended to reduce childhood obesity in the US — were announced on her birthday.
Among the changes are allowances for pastas made with potato, soy or other starchy vegetable-based flours to be considered as a vegetable serving.
The rules said: "Pasta made of vegetable flour may credit as a vegetable, even if the pasta is not served with another recognizable vegetable."
The agency said the rules were meant to "simplify" existing school lunch policies under the 2010's Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act. Officials said that by expanding the types of foods that qualify as a vegetable, rather than students throwing out food they don't want to eat, schools are more likely to reduce waste.
USDA secretary Sonny Perdue said that "schools and school districts continue to tell us that there is still too much food waste and that more common-sense flexibility is needed to provide students nutritious and appetizing meals. We listened and now we're getting to work."
The proposed guidelines also would permanently consider potatoes and other starchy foods as a fruit and would permit only half a cup of fruit rather than a whole cup to be served as a breakfast item. Missing calories can be filled with pastries and other starchy foods. Potatoes can also be served as a vegetable every day.
Colin Schwartz, deputy director of legislative affairs for the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, said the rules "allow anything that might be allowable as an entree on any one school day to be served as an a la carte item every single day", creating a "huge loophole in school nutrition guidelines" to include foods that are "high in calories, saturated fat or sodium in place of balanced school meals every day".
That loophole could be exploited by meat, soy, potato and other industry lobbies to expand their footprint on school menus, critics say.
Mr Perdue's latest guideline follows an April 2019 memo from the USDA to state and regional program that "expands flexibility for crediting vegetables" by making allowances for pastas made with vegetable flours and beans.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act mandated that participating schools include more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and low-fat dairy options on their menus while decreasing the amount of sugary, fatty and salty foods available to kids on campus.
Following its passage, the USDA reported a nationwide increase of children eating 16 per cent more vegetables and 23 per cent more fruit during lunch, and 90 per cent of participating schools reported students were meeting the new nutritional standards.
Upon entering office under Mr Trump, Mr Perdue began rolling back some of those standards by allowing looser sodium regulations and otherr changes.