He said that many of the schools have reported better academic performance and less student sick days as a result.
“Just about all of the schools that participate with us they say there is a difference,” Wechsler said.
As some schools struggled to follow the new guidelines at the beginning of the last school year, USDA relaxed some of the original requirements. In December, the department did away with daily and weekly limits on meats and grains that school nutrition officials said were too hard to follow.
Congress has also had its say on the standards. In 2011, after USDA first proposed them, Congress prohibited the department from limiting potatoes and French fries and allowed school lunchrooms to continue counting tomato paste on pizza as a vegetable.
The school lunch rules apply to federally subsidized lunches served at reduced or no cost to low-income children. Those meals have always been subject to nutritional guidelines because they are partially paid for by the federal government, but the new rules put broader restrictions on what could be served as childhood obesity rates have skyrocketed.
Schoolchildren can still buy additional foods in other parts of the lunchroom and the school. Separate USDA rules to make those foods healthier could go into effect as soon as next year.