Michelle Obama Lunch Rules Ban Fried Foods, Frosted Flakes in Daycare

Final regulation only allows daycare centers to serve juice once a day

/ AP
April 25, 2016

New rules stemming from the school lunch law championed by first lady Michelle Obama are banning popular children’s cereals like Frosted Flakes in daycare centers.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service issued a final rule Monday that will affect more than 3 million kids in daycare centers across the country. The regulation will only allow daycare centers to serve juice once a day, will ban fried foods, and encourages centers to not add honey to a child’s yogurt.

The regulation is a result of the 2010 law aimed at school lunches, a top priority of Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move anti-obesity initiative. The government hopes the new rule will "help children build healthy habits."

"This final rule updates the meal pattern requirements for the Child and Adult Care Food Program to better align them with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, as required by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010," the final rule states. "This rule requires centers and day care homes participating in the Child and Adult Care Food Program to serve more whole grains and a greater variety of vegetables and fruit, and reduces the amount of added sugars and solid fats in meals."

The law required the USDA to "promote health and wellness in child care settings via guidance and technical assistance that focuses on nutrition, physical activity, and limiting electronic media use," according to the regulation.

The final rule will apply to participating organizations in USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program, which reimburses centers for meals and snacks. Over 3.3 million children and 120,000 adults participate in the program every day.

The new regulation represents the first major change to the program since 1968 and will go into effect in 60 days.

Childcare and adult day care centers will only be allowed to serve juice once per day, and the new rule places strict limits on the amount of sugar in cereals served.

Breakfast cereals can "contain no more than 6 grams of sugar per dry ounce," according to the regulation. The sugar limit means no Lucky Charms, Trix, Cocoa Puffs, Cap’n Crunch, or Frosted Flakes.

Cereals that will meet the new sugar restrictions include Cheerios, Puffed Rice, Fiber One, and All-Bran.

The final regulation does allow meat and "meat alternates," such as tofu, if they are served "in place of the entire grains requirement at breakfast a maximum of three times per week."

Also banned are flavored milk for kids aged two to five and fried foods.

"This final rule prohibits frying as a way a preparing food on-site," according to the document. "Frying is defined as deep-fat frying (i.e. cooking by submerging food in hot oil or other fat). This definition of frying was recommended by commenters and continues to allow providers to sauté, pan-fry, and stir-fry."

The government explained that fish can be served " if it is pan-fried or prepared another way, as long as it is not cooked by submerging the bread into hot oil or other fat."

Centers will be allowed to serve cheese, cottage cheese, and yogurt, as long as it has fewer than 23 grams of sugar per 6 ounces. The first version of the regulation would have banned cheese, cottage cheese, and "cheese food, or spread."

The government said it will allow daycare centers to break the rules for special occasions like birthdays, but urged centers to "use discretion."

"[The Food and Nutrition Service] FNS recognizes that there may be times when a provider would like to serve foods or beverages that are not reimbursable, such as on a child’s birthday or another special occasion," the agency said. "Providers still have the flexibility to serve non-reimbursable foods and beverages of their choosing."

"However, FNS encourages providers to use their discretion when serving non-reimbursable foods and beverages, which may be higher in added sugar, solid fats, and sodium, to ensure children and adult participants’ nutritional needs are met," the agency said.

The rule also includes "best practices," or guidelines that are preferred by the government but are optional for organizations.

"Best practices" include serving only lean meats, nuts, and legumes, and limiting meals with processed meats to a maximum of once a week. The government also prefers daycare centers serve low-fat and reduced-fat cheese, and unflavored milk and warns against adding honey or jam to foods.

"Avoid serving non-creditable foods that are sources of added sugars, such as sweet toppings (e.g., honey, jam, syrup), mix-in ingredients sold with yogurt (e.g., honey, candy or cookie pieces), and sugar-sweetened beverages (e.g., fruit drinks or sodas)," the final rule states.

The regulation is intended to bring daycare centers in line with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which have generated controversy over the years. The latest version stressed a "collective" approach to eating, and reversed a decades-long recommendation for cholesterol, by deeming eggs OK to eat. The federal committee in charge of drafting the guidelines ultimately did not include sustainability in its final version, which would have added environmentalism and advocated for "plant-based diets" out of climate change concerns.

Other questions have been raised about the science behind the Dietary Guidelines over the years, including steering millions of Americans away from whole milk, despite studies demonstrating its health benefits.

Some organizations expressed "strong concerns regarding cost, increased record keeping burden, and the period of time afforded for implementation" in complying with the daycare regulation.

Members of the food industry also "voiced concerns that some aspects of the proposed rule would limit food choices, increase costs, and prohibit serving nutritious foods that may be more palatable to children."

The government said the rule was "designed to be cost-neutral."