A top official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture was in Iowa this week touting new federal guidelines that are designed to make meals served in schools more nutritious.

Kevin Concannon, undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer sciences at the USDA, says changes to take effect on July 1 will also increase the federal dollars provided for the school meals program. “We see this as a major opportunity, not only to help children have access to nutritious food every day, but it can also — in schools — take some of the pressure off the households and people who may be struggling in this economy,” Concannon told Radio Iowa.

Concannon served as director of the Iowa Department of Human Services from 2003 to 2008. His return to the state this week included stops in Sioux City on Wednesday and Gilbert Elementary School on Thursday.

Concannon said the move to serve school children more fruits, vegetables and other low-fat foods followed recommendations from health and medical professionals – and others. “We had a national group of retired Army generals and admirals from the Navy and Coast Guard who lobbied congress on the basis of…we have such an obesity problem in the United States, it’s not just a health problem, it’s a national security problem,” Concannon said. Government statistics show 36% of adults and 17% of children in the U.S. are obese.

A public outcry over a type of lunch meat served in schools sparked a recent policy change at the USDA. Concannon said schools will have a choice between using “lean, finely textured beef” — sometimes referred to as “pink slime” — or another less lean ground beef. “At the end of the day, that lean finely textured beef is safe, leaner than the average beef that comes through the beef supply and it is less costly,” Concannon said. “But, we recognize it is a choice and that is something new we will have this coming school year.”

The so-called “pink slime” is made from leftover beef trimmings and treated to kill off bacteria. It has been in the U.S. food supply since the early 1990s, according to Concannon. McDonald’s announced earlier this year it would discontinue use of the controversial meat product made by South Dakota-based Beef Products Incorporated. The grocery store chain, Hy-Vee, announced today it will no longer carry products containing lean, finely textured beef.