Facing a new legislative challenge to calorie limits on updated school nutrition standards, U.S. Department of Agriculture deputy secretary Kathleen Merrigan insisted the new standards give students adequate nutrition for the school day.

House Agriculture Committee members Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan. and Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa introduced the No Hungry Kids Act in mid-September. The legislation would repeal the USDA’s rule that created the updated nutrition standards and would prohibit the USDA’s upper calorie limits on school meals.

“The goal of the school lunch program is supposed to be feeding children, not filling the trash cans with uneaten food,” Huelskamp said in a news release. “The USDA’s new school lunch guidelines are a perfect example of what is wrong with government: misguided inputs, tremendous waste and unaccomplished goals. Thanks to the nutrition nannies at the USDA, America’s children are going hungry at school,” he said in the release.

King criticized what he called “misguided nanny state.” in the release. “Parents know that their kids deserve all of the healthy and nutritious food they want.”

While saying there is give and take in the implementation of the standards, Merrigan said in a teleconference Sept. 14 that the nutrition standards will serve kids well.

“I know there is a little pushback on that, but we have done our homework and these are good standards,” she said during a Sept. 14 teleconference.”We are going in the right direction.” Merrigan announced more than $5 million in federal grants Sept. 14 to support schools in 18 states and one territory implement the behavior-focused strategies for nutrition education.

In an interview with AgriTalk Sept. 18, Huelskamp said that he has heard specific complaints about the calorie limits for football players.

“Certainly obesity is a problem, but it is not a problem to be solved in Washington but a problem that should be solved by parents,” he said.

Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Janey Thornton said the menus are based on the Dietary Guidance for Americans. “No they don’t have the triple burger or the huge portions that we as a society that have come to think as the norm,” she said. “What we are trying to do is not to teach children just what to eat, but portion sizes,” she said.

The problem of obesity is linked both to the kind of foods kids eat and the volume they consume, she said.

However, she said the calorie limits have been a challenge at some schools. While football players who practice after school may need more calories than the school lunch can give, Thornton said not everyone at school is a middle linebacker.

School boosters and others can help provide healthy snacks football players need so they will have the calories they need for practice, she said.

Thornton said she witnessed kids enjoying eating the expanding servings of fruits and vegetables available during school lunches.

“From a child eating kiwi they have never tasted, to another first grade saying he loved those little trees - and broccoli is what he liked,” she said Sept. 14. Thornton said the offer versus serve option for schools allow kids to take less than the full recommended measure of fruits and vegetables, and some schools have actually reported less waste compared with the old standards, she said.