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Lawsuit aims to change school nutritional requirements again

MURPHYSBORO — Illinois is one of several states suing the Department of Agriculture over rollbacks of school lunch regulations. The lawsuit argues the changes go against nutrition requirements put in place by Congress.

In 2012, then First Lady Michelle Obama pushed for school meals to be healthier, and Congress quickly formed strict nutritional requirements. But in 2018, the Trump administration rolled back some of those regulations.

Georgia Marshall is the Food Service Coordinator in Murphysboro and works hard to put healthy meals on the table. She agrees with most of the Obama-era requirements but said one was just too difficult to follow. 

"Sodium contents have dropped to a more normal level. No one would have met the original guidelines for sodium," said Marshall. 

Flavored milk is also allowed back in the schools, but Marshall still serves fat-free and one percent. She says the kids have gotten used to the healthier options.

"The whole grain breads, whole grain pasta, more vegetables, more fruits, they have become accustom to them," said Marshall. 

The new lawsuit aims to put a hold on the sodium standards, claiming the changes are against the law and put kids at risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Marshall says she understands the regulations were put in place for good reason, but schools aren’t gourmet kitchens. 

She says parents can rest assured, in Murphysboro, they are doing their best to give kids the best food they need to fuel their brains. 

Each day 30 million students eat a school lunch, and for many, those meals are the only ones they get in a day. 

A school district in Indiana has found a way to turn cafeteria leftovers into take-home meals for the weekend. 

An organization in Carterville called Gum Drops is on a similar mission, but they aren’t using leftovers. Instead, they send home donated snacks on Fridays. 

"They get about 12 to 15 items. It’s all child friendly, so if they have to do it themselves, if Mom and Dad are working or whatever, the child can do it," said Amy Simpson with Gum Drops. 

Tuesday, seniors from Cobden High School volunteered and filled 500 bags with snacks ready to send home. Gum Drops currently feeds around 1,700 children in southern Illinois a week. 

Marshall says she supports any effort to feed hungry children on the weekend and wishes even more could be done, "None of the cooking staff likes to throw away all this good food. But what can you do with it? What can you do with 30 servings of spaghetti? Nothing. Throw it away, it’s a waste."

Students at Murphysboro take home meals from Gum Drops, but Marshall says cutting down on waste by sending home left-over cafeteria food would be a big help and a dream come true. Currently, they just don’t know how to make it happen. 

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