The following editorial appeared in The (Mankato, Minnesota) Free Press, a CNHI newspaper. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Tribune-Democrat.

Hey kids, want some fries to go with those mashed potatoes?

Under the guise of giving schools more local control, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing rules to roll back some of the federal school meal nutrition standards.

This is on the heels of a change last March when the USDA allowed school food authorities to substitute potatoes in place of fruit without including vegetables from other subgroups in the weekly menus.

Also last year, other changes included weakening school nutrition standards for whole grains, nonfat milk and reduced sodium.

The newest proposed changes would allow schools to offer potatoes as a vegetable every day and gives them the flexibility to provide pizza and burgers over more nutritious choices, reports the Washington Post.

The new rules would cut the amount of fruit included in breakfasts served outside of the cafeteria from a cup to a half-cup.

The remaining calories could be filled with sweet pastries and granola bars.

Not surprisingly, some critics see the USDA’s plan as being a reaction to the potato lobby and changes it wanted.

So the USDA is planning to roll back the healthier food initiatives that were beginning to make a difference – and that’s according to its own study. The Healthy Eating Index dramatically increased for school breakfasts and lunches after implementation of the Obama-era changes, with scores growing from 49.6 out of 100 in school year 2009-2010 to 71.3 by 2014-2015.

As we watch the rates of obesity and diabetes climb and the burden of higher health costs grow, making students’ school meals less healthy makes no more sense than changing the buffet sign from “all-you-can-eat” to “all-you-care-to-eat.”

Less variety, more sodium and fattier foods are a recipe for poor health no matter how you sell it.

No one is saying potatoes are bad – they are a vegetable and can be part of a balanced diet. But we all should know by now that a larger variety of vegetables is better for you.

Eat the rainbow is often the nutritional advice when it comes to choosing healthier foods.

The push to roll back government regulations to the point where it negatively affects young people’s daily lives needs pushback. The proposals were entered in the Federal Register on Jan. 23 and are open for public comment for 60 days. It’s time to let the USDA know that school meals should remain nutritious not just filling.

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