USDA approves more flexibility in school meals standards

The United States Department of Agriculture on December 6 released a “final rule on school meal flexibilities” that gives local school food programs some new menu options.

The new regulations, which take effect July 1, 2019, roll back some Obama-era standards enacted under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA), which sought to reduce the amount of fat and sodium in school meals and increase the amount of whole grains served. Students, parents and some school nutrition directors almost immediately raised concerns about the standards. They said students didn’t like the new menu options and threw much of the food in the trash. Some districts expressed concern that local taste and nutrition preferences were stifled or ignored by the federal government. KASB’s federal legislative policy supports reauthorization of the HHFKA in a way that increases flexibility for local districts in providing healthy meals to children and families.

The new rule allows schools to offer students flavored one-percent milk in addition to unflavored skim milk. Districts may also serve foods that are 50 percent whole grain rather than only 100 percent whole grain. Finally, school meals may maintain the current sodium target until 2024. A new round of sodium cuts is scheduled to begin in 2025, and a third round required by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act has been eliminated.

“USDA has listened to schools and provided additional options to serve healthy and appealing meals by providing flexibilities to implement school nutrition standards for milk, whole grains and sodium,” said Kansas State Department of Education Child Nutrition Director Cheryl Johnson.

“If kids are not eating what is being served, they are not benefiting, and food is being wasted,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “We all have the same goals in mind — the health and development of our young people. USDA trusts our local operators to serve healthy meals that meet local preferences and build bright futures with good nutrition.”

The National School Boards Association continues to work with the USDA and Congress to discuss additional regulatory and legislative improvements to school meal programs that will help to ensure school districts are able to provide affordable healthy meals to children.


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