In January 2012, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the final nutrition standards outlining the changes to school nutrition programs, as required by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The new nutritional standards emphasize whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low fat dairy products, with limits on sodium, saturated fat, trans fat, and calories.
On July 1st 2014, the Smart Snack in School rule took effect, limiting al a carte service and vending machine options to USDA approved snacks within the guidelines of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.
The new school nutritional standards have resulted in many positive changes. However, the financial impact of these changes are crippling school meal programs, and threatening the efforts to better serve students.
According to the USDA, the new nutrition standards have increased the cost of preparing school lunch by 10 cents per student. The USDA states the standards have increased the cost of food and labor by 1.2 billion dollars in the last year alone. They estimate the additional cost will reach over $3 billion by the end of 2016. To alleviate some of the financial burden, Congress provides 6 additional cents per student lunch for each school nutrition program that complies with the new standards. However, despite widespread efforts, 80% of schools districts have already been forced to make controversial decisions to offset financial losses, which will eventually destroy the already fragile stability of the school nutrition program.
- Reducing staff
- Cafeterias are being forced to operate with limited staff resulting in the ability to sufficiently serve safe lunches within the federal regulated times (10am-2pm).
- Limiting menu options
- Students are growing intolerant of-mediocre tasting food and limited choices, resulting in decreased program participation & substantial increased waste.
- Purchasing processed non-perishable commodity entitlement
- Food Service Directors are choosing low-perishable foods, and processed meat with vegetable protein fillers to meet nutrition standards at a cheaper cost, resulting in lower program participation and food selections below parent expectations.
- Deferring equipment investments
- Foodservice equipment is being neglected of necessary maintenance programs and repairs, resulting costly emergency repairs and compromised food safety.
- The use of district satellite kitchens
- Large districts are resorting to preparing meals in “master” kitchens then transporting food to each school, resulting in poor food quality and expensive transportation costs.
The non-profit School Nutrition Association (SNA) is inviting all school nutrition professionals from across the country to head to Capitol Hill to urge Congress to invest in healthy school meals. SNA’s 44th annual Legislative Action Conference (LAC) is scheduled to be held in Washington D.C. on February 28 – March 1, 2016. LAC attendees will meet with House and Senate members to discuss the SNA 2016 Position Paper for increased funding for school meal programs. Over 900 professionals are expected to attend.
Edited by: Marcie Byrd