KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- First Lady Michelle Obama says school nutrition requirements shouldn't be watered down. But Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack will meet with representatives of a group that once favored the rules but now wants changes. A Kansas City metro woman is president of that group.
Broccoli and pineapple are among the offerings at the Hickman Mills School District's summer camp. During the school year, federal nutrition requirements say kids must take a fruit or veggie with any meal, even if they don't want it.
"So they're having to take something they're just going to throw in the trash, so we feel like we should offer that but not force it," said Leah Schmidt, president of the School Nutrition Association. She is director of Hickman Mills' nutrition services.
Schmidt says the standards are resulting in a big drop in kids eating school meals. Besides eliminating the fruit and veggie requirement, the association wants to retain the current requirement that half of grains be whole grains instead of boosting it to 100 percent.
"We took macaroni and cheese off our menu because we just could not find a good whole grain product that we could use," said Schmidt.
The group also wants to retain current salt levels. Schmidt says by 2021, school meals would have sodium levels equal to those in a kidney patient's diet.
"There's no research that shows that's good for students," she said.
The First Lady has been adamant about the guidelines staying on track. She says they're valuable in curbing America's obesity epidemic.
"Now is not the time to roll back everything we've worked for," Obama said.
Schmidt says that's not what the School Nutrition Association is asking for.
"We are asking to take a pause," she said.
The organization is backed by food companies, which must spend millions on changing their products. Critics say the companies have strong influence on the group's positions.
"Actually, they're trying to meet the regulations, so it's not about them," she said.
Schmidt claims it's about serving healthy meals that kids will eat.
Congress is considering allowing districts that are losing money on food services a chance to skip the requirements for a year. The School Nutrition Association favors that bill.