National School Lunch program gets a permanent overhaul

Jan 10, 2014

USDA’s highly debated school lunch plan hit a bit of a snag early on in its implementation and the agency appears to have come to its senses on the absurdity, at least relating to the protein part.

The federal school meal regulations, originally designed to combat childhood obesity, set maximums on grains and proteins for students, leaving many still hungry and creating problems for individual schools with its “one size fits all” plan.

Agriculture Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon announced last week that USDA is making permanent the current flexibility that allows schools to serve larger portions of lean protein and whole grains at mealtime.

“Earlier this school year, USDA made a commitment to school nutrition professionals that we would make the meat and grain flexibility permanent and provide needed stability for long-term planning. We have delivered on that promise,” said Concannon.

Senators John Hoeven (R- ND) and Mark Pryor (D-AR) wrote the Sensible School Lunch Act in the hopes of fixing the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program requirements.

In December, 2012, USDA made temporary changes to the School Lunch Program in response to a letter led by Hoeven and Pryor and signed by other senators.

“A one-size-fits-all approach to school lunch left students hungry and school districts frustrated with the additional expense, paperwork and nutritional research necessary to meet federal requirements. These are exactly the changes included in our Sensible School Lunch Act,” Hoeven said.

“After hearing from educators, parents and students, Senator Hoeven and I stepped in to help school districts who were frustrated with the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program’s strict new rules,” Pryor said. “I’m glad the USDA followed our lead and made these much needed administrative changes that will give our school districts the permanent flexibility they need to keep our kids healthy and successful.”

USDA’s rule now includes a provision to make permanent the grain and meat/ meat-alternate flexibility that USDA has used on account of the senators’ efforts over the past year. Under the final rule, schools will be considered compliant with the new meal requirements if they meet the weekly mini-

mums for grain and meat/ meat alternates, as well as the total calorie ranges.

Hoeven and Pryor said their effort was prompted by numerous correspondences from parents, school board members, superintendents and other concerned community members expressing their frustration as the new rule was rolled out. The rule became effective in March, 2012 and was implemented for the 2013 school year. The senators pushed the agency to lift its strict limitations on caloric intake of grains and starches, as well as protein, but only for the 2012-2013 school year. The move gave significantly more flexibility to schools and students, especially athletes.

Hoeven and Pryor had said they were concerned about strict calorie limits, protein sufficiency, increased costs and lack of flexibility to adapt the program to the individual needs of some students.

Based on public feedback, USDA wrote in its press release that the agency has made a number of updates to school meal standards including additional flexibility in meeting the daily and weekly ranges for grain and meat/ meat alternates, which has been available to schools on a temporary basis since 2012. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor