SNA Comments on USDA School Meal Rule
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Contact: Diane Pratt-Heavner
SNA Comments on USDA School Meal Rule
NATIONAL HARBOR, MD – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released an interim final rule to extend current regulatory flexibility for school meal programs through School Year (SY) 2018-19. The non-profit School Nutrition Association (SNA) commended USDA for the extension and has called for even greater flexibility under whole grain and sodium mandates to address challenges while maintaining strong standards to benefit students. SNA is assembling a member working group to develop detailed recommendations to improve a final rule.
The interim rule maintains Target 1 sodium limits for school meals, and USDA “anticipates” extending this deadline through SY 2020-21. States can continue to offer waivers to schools demonstrating hardship in procuring or preparing specific whole grain rich foods that are acceptable to students (eg whole grain tortillas or brown rice). Finally, the rule provides schools the option to offer flavored 1% milk. USDA requests public comment on the interim rule and the sodium reduction timeline to inform the development of a final rule, effective in SY 2019-20.
A recent SNA survey of school meal programs across the country, detailed below, demonstrated the need for increased flexibility under the rules. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) and USDA have also cited significant challenges under updated standards with student acceptance, food waste, product availability and participation - more than one million fewer students choose school lunch each day under the updated nutrition standards. To address these challenges, SNA has advocated to restore the initial requirement that at least half of grains offered with school meals be whole grain rich and to maintain the Target 1 sodium levels permanently.
“School nutrition professionals have achieved tremendous progress, modifying recipes, hosting student taste tests and employing a wide range of other tactics to meet regulations while also encouraging students to enjoy healthier school meals,” said SNA President Lynn Harvey, Ed.D., RDN, LDN, FAND, SNS. "Despite these efforts, school nutrition professionals continue to report challenges with sodium and whole grain mandates, as well as limited access to whole grain waivers. SNA appreciates USDA’s desire to address challenges and will provide comment on how to improve a final rule to support the preparation of healthy school meals that appeal to students.”
SNA’s 2017 School Nutrition Trends Report examined the positive efforts of schools to meet nutrition mandates while demonstrating the need for increased flexibility under the nutrition standards:
School nutrition professionals are working to increase student acceptance of whole grain foods required in school meals. Among responding districts:
Despite these proactive steps, 65% of responding districts report challenges with the current mandate that all grains offered with school meals be whole grain rich; 22% of responding districts note a “significant challenge”
Schools reported employing a wide range of tactics to meet sodium limits for school meals. Notably:
Despite these efforts, schools nationwide express concerns about sodium limits:
USDA Locks In School Nutrition Tweaks
The Department of Agriculture on Wednesday released an interim final rule that will cement changes to school meals that Perdue announced in May. The measure, which goes into effect for the 2018-19 school year, will stave off stricter sodium restrictions that were set to kick in last summer and locks in flexibility that Perdue has provided to schools that are having a hard time meeting the whole-grain standards. It also will give schools the option to serve 1-percent flavored milk. Previously, non-fat flavored milk and low-fat milk were permitted as part of the nutrition standards.
SNA is pumped: The School Nutrition Association lauded the increased flexibility districts are being given to meet the standards, citing continued challenges at schools across the country.
"School nutrition professionals have achieved tremendous progress, modifying recipes, hosting student taste-tests and employing a wide range of other tactics to meet regulations while also encouraging students to enjoy healthier school meals," Lynn Harvey, SNA president, said in a statement. "Despite these efforts, school nutrition professionals continue to report challenges with sodium and whole grain mandates, as well as limited access to whole grain waivers."
About those challenges: The group cited recent survey data from its members that found 65 percent of districts still have trouble with the requirement to serve only whole-grain-rich products. The survey also found that 92 percent of responding districts were concerned about the availability of foods that would meet future sodium limits and also be "well accepted by students."
Chocolate milk side note: SNA didn't lobby for the changes to the dairy rules, which will make it easier to get chocolate and strawberry low-fat milk onto lunch trays. That was the work of the dairy industry.
Health advocates are not pleased: Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and many other advocates condemned USDA's move. "The proposal is a hammer in search of a nail," Wootan said in a statement. "Virtually 100 percent of schools are already complying with the final nutrition standards, including the first phase of sodium reduction."
Reality check: Despite what headlines have suggested, the changes to the nutrition standards are relatively modest. They leave in place most of the standards championed by former first lady Michelle Obama under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.
Where is USDA's Measure to Change School Lunch Rules?
On July 6, USDA sent an interim final rule to the White House that would change some of the school lunch standards championed by former first lady Michelle Obama, including stalling restrictions on salt and locking in flexibility in meeting the mandate to serve only whole-grain-rich foods. The rule is still there, though perhaps not for long. The review being conducted by the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is supposed to take 90 days, but officials can ask for a three-month extension. The rule has now been under review for 96 days, and the White House has yet to seek more time.
Flashback to the lunchroom: Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue visited a Leesburg, Va., elementary school a week after taking office to announce he'd give schools more leeway to meet the school nutrition standards beefed up during the Obama administration. While he praised Michelle Obama's efforts on child nutrition, Perdue said schools should be able to serve food that students find palatable and that administrators shouldn't be forced-fed regulations that have increased expenses in some cases. Pros, brush up on that announcement here.
A USDA spokesman told MA the rule is still a top priority for Perdue. "The regulatory development process is well underway, and we are working with the Office of Management and Budget to facilitate completion and prompt publication of the rule," the spokesman said.
USDA Launches Energize Your Day with School Breakfast
Energize Your Day with School Breakfast is a collection of digital resources available on the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) website. The collection can be used by program operators and other stakeholders to establish or expand the breakfast service within their school. The three modules on the website are: “Getting Started with School Breakfast,” “Implementing Your Program,” and “Marketing Your Program.” The toolkit is intended to help schools determine which type of meal service is best for them, calculate costs of operation in conjunction with helping to develop both menus and a marketing plan to encourage student participation. SNA also provides several School Breakfast Program (SBP) resources, such as the archived Operating a Breakfast in the Classroom Program: Everything You Want to Know About Implementation webinar and this report on school breakfast service times.
SNA’s 2017 School Nutrition Trends Report
SNA released its 2017 School Nutrition Trends Report, a summary of findings from a survey conducted with SNA members. The report contains information on menu trends related to student customization, flavor trends and clean label ingredients. 60% of responding districts are offering new menu items that feature international flavors, 56% report serving cleaner label choices and over half offer made-to-order or self-serve entrée bars! The survey also revealed that school nutrition professionals have employed a wide range of tactics to meet sodium and whole grain regulations, but continue to face challenges and express concerns about meeting those particular mandates. For more information, check out SNA’s press release on the report, or read the report summary here.
SNA Submits Comment on Identifying Regulatory Reform Initiatives
SNA submitted a comment in response to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Federal Register Notice on July 17, 2017, Identifying Regulatory Reform Initiatives, which requested ideas from the public on how USDA can provide better customer service and remove unintended barriers to participation in their programs. SNA used the responses collected from the survey sent out about the topic to highlight priority areas where reforms should be directed. Those priority areas include ensuring that students from food insecure households are not “priced out” of the school nutrition programs due to paid lunch equity, streamlining the multiple program regulations for school districts operating multiple child nutrition programs, offering flexibility in the variety of fruits and vegetables being offered, and understanding the impact of Smart Snacks on fiscal sustainability. SNA will continue to provide feedback and raise additional ideas for change in order to promote healthy meals for our nations’ students.
National School Lunch Week: Get Your Prep Organized
“Mise en place” is a French culinary phrase which means “everything in its place.” Chefs are encouraged to get everything set up and organized before cooking begins. You want to be sure that you have everything on hand, in the right amounts, arranged and ready to go, so that you are efficient and focused on the recipe task at hand.
You might apply the mise en place approach to your 2017 National School Lunch Week (NSLW) plans, to ensure that you have everything you need to create your own “recipe for success.”
With NSLW just a few short weeks away—October 9-13—you should have a good concept for the varying elements of your celebration. You’ll know whether you are organizing an event, inviting guests, creating a special menu, relying on community partners and so on. But have you calculated the specifics of a timeline or budget? Does everyone involved know their role? When NSLW begins, you don’t want to be scrambling or caught off-guard by an unexpected hiccup.
Make some time in the next day or two to create your checklists and notify all of those who will be involved of your expectations.
Near the top of the list should be ensuring that you have ordered the promotional resources you need to support your event from the SNA Emporium. From posters to t-shirts to unique giveaway items, you’ll find a wide variety of merchandise with the official campaign artwork and the “School Lunch: Recipes for Success” theme. Time is running out to ensure that orders arrive when you need them. Click here for a direct link to the supplies that will support your celebration!
And don’t forget to review all the online resources available at SNA’s special NSLW page, especially to access resources you’ll need NOW to promote your activities in advance. These include presentations, a sample proclamation, a press release and all-important social media tips!
There’s only a little more than two weeks left to prepare!
Call for Nominations: 2018 School Nutrition Heroes
Your help is needed in identifying the 2018 School Nutrition Heroes! Do you know an SNA member who goes above and beyond his or her responsibilities to make a difference in the community? We need you to tell us about this extraordinary person.
The Celebration of School Nutrition Heroes will be held for the 5th year on Monday, March 5, 2018 during SNA’s Legislative Action Conference (LAC) in Washington, D.C. We are looking for the five special SNA members who will be recognized at the Celebration. These heroes represent the commitment and passion of school nutrition professionals throughout the nation and are often the unsung heroes in our midst. They do not look for recognition but deserve to be acknowledged for making a difference in the lives of others.
Past recipients have included a woman who began two shelters for homeless in her community, a woman who helped provide clothes for homecoming, proms, and other special events for students who couldn’t afford fancy attire, a man who served a number of local food banks throughout the year, a woman who provided housing for the homeless to give them an opportunity to get back on their feet, a man who taught teens how to grow, harvest, and prepare foods and others with inspiring stories.
We are looking for the women and men who inspire you and who serve as role models for others. To tell us about the individual that you think should be recognized as a School Nutrition Hero, go to https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/SchoolNutritionHero. The deadline for nominations is Friday, October 27.
School Nutrition Professionals Recognized in Congress
SNA was honored to collaborate with Congressman Rodney Davis (R-Ill-13) in developing a special recognition for school nutrition professionals, which Rep. Davis delivered in the United States’ House of Representatives on Wednesday, September 13, 2017. The recognition highlighted all the important work that school nutrition professionals do every school day to ensure that children are eating healthy, balanced meals that enable them to succeed and work their hardest in the classroom. School nutrition staff are a vital part of the education system, and you should take special pride in the work you do feeding millions of children and making their lunchroom experience an enjoyable one. SNA, and Congressman Davis on behalf of the U.S House of Representatives, are enormously proud to honor you and recognize your hard work.
SNA is also excited to share our new advocacy video, which helps to explain some of the challenges and goals of school meal programs. The video features several SNA members discussing the positive impact of school nutrition professionals on the lives of students, and why it’s important to serve nutritious, balanced school meals. Feel free to share this video at your state meetings and with your local legislators!
Disaster Relief Message from SNA
We know we speak for everyone on the SNA and SNF Boards—and, indeed, our national membership—that our hearts ache for all those in Texas and Louisiana who have been so terribly devastated by the floods and ravages of this week’s hurricane. The images shared in the news and on social media are beyond imagination,” said SNA President Lynn Harvey, EdD, RD, SNS, and SNF Board Chair Sandra Ford, SNS, in a joint statement.
We encourage you to give what you can to an established disaster-relief organization and have listed the website information for several of these below the photo. As we learn of any new relief opportunities that may serve schools and/or school nutrition professionals directly, we will provide updated information.” SNA will be making its own contribution to relief efforts.
National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster is an association of such organizations, and it offers a list of Texas partner members.
Be sure to watch the video where you will see our MdSNA President-Elect, Jeff Proulx
SNA Touts Healthy School Meals at Back to School Time
As students head back to school, SNA is educating parents and legislators on the benefits of nutritious school meals. Through media interviews, outreach to family bloggers, posts on SNA’s Tray Talk blog and Facebook page and a new video, SNA is illustrating how school nutrition professionals ensure students enjoy well-balanced, appealing meals in the school environment. View a recent SNA news article for a sampling of the coverage and blog posts SNA has earned. As Congress reconvenes for business after Labor Day, SNA will also share the newest video, featuring several SNA members discussing the positive impact of school nutrition professionals on the lives of students. View the downloadable version here.
Back to school is a great time to promote your school nutrition program to parents and local media outlets. Find media and outreach guides, talking points and customizable tools at www.schoolnutrition.org/PR.
Promote Your School Nutrition Program with Tools from SNA
SNA offers many valuable tools and resources to help you promote your school nutrition program this year. Read More
Trump Administration, USDA Names New Leadership
U.S Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced on Wednesday, July 19, the names of three new individuals who will be taking leadership roles within the U.S Department of Agriculture. Brandon Lipps will serve as the Administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), while also serving as Acting Deputy Under Secretary of Food and Nutrition Consumer Services (FNCS) until a permanent appointee is nominated by the president and approved by the Senate. Previously, Lipps worked for the Texas Tech University System as the Chief of Staff and Director of Federal Affairs in the Office of Chancellor Robert Duncan, served as counsel and senior professional staff to the U.S House Committee on Agriculture, and held various positions under Chancellor Duncan while he served as Texas State Senator.
Maggie Lyons will serve as Chief of Staff and senior advisor to the Under Secretary. Before joining the USDA, Lyons was the Senior Government Relations Director for the National Grocers Association (NGA) and worked on Capitol Hill in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Lastly, Kailee Tkacz will serve as policy advisor to the Under Secretary. Her work experience includes serving as the Director of Food Policy for the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), Director of Government Affairs for the Snack Food Association and Government Affairs Manager for the National Grocers Association.
Regarding the staffing announcements, Secretary Perdue issued this statement:
“The health and nutrition programs administered by USDA play a tremendous role in the Administration’s efforts to improve education and job readiness. I have no doubt that Brandon, Maggie, and Kailee will help further our mission of feeding the world and making decisions in our nutrition programs that are science-based and data-driven. I welcome Brandon, Maggie, and Kailee to the USDA family and I thank them for their desire to serve this nation.”
Also on Wednesday, the White House sent the Senate Agriculture committee its official notice of intent to nominate Stephen Censky for USDA Deputy Secretary. Censky previously served at USDA in both the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations and worked on the 1990 farm bill. He most recently served as the American Soybean Association’s Chief Executive Officer for 21 years. You can view an organizational chart of these positions and others within USDA on the USDA website.