WASHINGTON - The Agriculture Department will allow some schools to delay adding more whole-grains to meals this year, responding to criticism from school nutrition officials and Congress that the standards were too difficult to put in place.
The delay comes hours after a Republican-led House spending panel criticized the Obama administration's healthier school-lunch standards and proposed letting some schools opt out of them entirely.
USDA said schools can put off for two years a requirement that all pastas in schools be whole-grain rich, or more than half whole grain, if they can demonstrate that they have had "significant challenges" in preparing whole-grain pasta. Many schools have complained that the whole-grain pastas don't hold together well when cooked.
"Schools raised legitimate concerns that acceptable whole-grain rich pasta products were not available," said Kevin Concannon, USDA undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services. "We worked to find a solution which will allow more time for industry to develop products that will work for schools."
While many students have adapted easily to whole grain breads and rolls, which have been on the market for some time, school nutrition directors say they are having a harder time with pastas, biscuits, tortillas and grits - all popular items on the lunch line. The current requirement is that 50 percent of all grain products be whole-grain rich, but that is set to jump to 100 percent in the next school year.