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Helmut Schmidt, Published March 28 2013

Hoeven dishes up school lunch bill to crowd of students

FARGO – With a flock of hungry Davies High School Eagles looking on, Sen. John Hoeven held a lunchroom press conference Thursday to assure his youngest and hungriest constituents that he’ll get federal school lunch rules fixed so they can not only eat healthy, but eat as much as they need.

The North Dakota Republican is a co-sponsor of the Sensible School Lunch Act, which he said will permanently lift restrictions on grains, starches and proteins, so kids can get enough to eat.

The legislation makes “sure you have nutritious lunches that sustain the kids through the days. And also that the schools have the flexibility to serve the foods that the kids like, want and need,” like sub sandwiches and pizza, Hoeven said. “And it will actually save the schools $75 million a year nationwide.”

The event included sixth-graders from Lisbon (N.D.) Middle School, and West Fargo High School wrestler Preston Lehmann, who had written Hoeven letters asking for some help to make their lunches more palatable and filling.

New federal anti-obesity rules kicked in at the start of the school year, limiting what types of foods schools could serve and how much. After public outcry, the U.S. Department of Agriculture temporarily lifted the regulations.

That has helped, the sixth-graders said. At the start of the school year, lunches “were really small in portions. They really cut down on our breads and meats,” Jayce Hoesel said.

“They’ve gotten a little bit better,” Brooke Hoenhause said. “And way more fresh food.”

“I like to be able to pick, because otherwise you’re throwing too much (food) away,” said Gavin Rinke, who said the previous lunch rules left stomachs rumbling for athletes.

Hoeven said the USDA’s attempts to control proteins and breads “made it almost impossible” to serve school lunches that were nutritious and tasted good.

He said that’s why he joined with Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., on a bill allowing the USDA’s limits on calories to stay the same for each age group but giving schools more flexibility in how they can meet the calorie caps.

Hoeven said the bill has the support of the national School Nutrition Association.

“This year we’re serving many more fruits and vegetables. Our salad bars are overflowing,” said Deb Laber, director of nutrition services for the Fargo School District. “So that’s different. We’re offering bread again because we can. We couldn’t do that in the beginning of the year.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583