A Recap of Yesterday’s School Food Developments

by Bettina Elias Siegel on May 21, 2014

Yesterday I told you that the School Nutrition Association (SNA), the nation’s largest group of school food professionals, is pushing Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to roll back key aspects of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.  Today, I can report that the SNA has had preliminary success in achieving some of these goals.

One of the changes sought by the SNA is preventing the implementation of a forthcoming requirement that 100 percent of the grain foods in school meals be “whole grain rich,” and yesterday the USDA announced it will grant schools a waiver of up to two years before they must implement that requirement.  Apparently the USDA was persuaded by complaints from school districts that existing whole grain pastas do not hold up well when cooked in large quantities, and the waiver is intended to give the food industry time to come up with better formulations.

Meanwhile, the House Appropriations subcommittee yesterday released its fiscal year 2015 agriculture appropriations bill, which included language that would allow any school district which operated its meal program at a loss for at least six months this past school year to seek a waiver from compliance in the coming year with the new, healthier school food standards.  The Hill‘s account of the subcommittee meeting indicates that passions were running high, with Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) fighting hard, but unsuccessfully, against inclusion of the waiver language.

The Senate has also released its agriculture appropriations bill, which currently has no language affecting the school meal standards. But the Washington Post reports that when the full Senate appropriations committee considers that bill, an amendment will be offered which makes permanent the USDA’s whole grain waiver and which would also postpone upcoming requirements that sodium in school food be further reduced.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a statement opposing the House bill:

“The House bill would undermine the effort to provide kids with more nutritious food and would be a major step backwards for the health of American children, just at the time childhood obesity rates are finally starting to level off,” he said. “USDA has continued to show flexibility in implementing these new standards, and Congress should focus on partnering with USDA, states, schools, and parents to help our kids have access to more healthy food, not less.”

I’ll keep you posted of further developments.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Lunch Lady May 21, 2014 at 8:12 am

Actually, the USDA memo on the two year waiver on 100% whole grain rich foods states that “school districts that wish to take advantage of this two-year flexibility must obtain approval from their state agency by demonstrating that they experienced significant challenges in preparing and serving whole grain-rich pasta products in their schools”.

That is going to be hard for most districts to prove.

And honestly, we’ve been 100% whole grain rich for all of this year … and our participation is up. It’s not that hard if you work with your local bakery and train your staff to batch cook your pasta so it doesn’t mush up.

Reply

Bettina Elias Siegel May 21, 2014 at 8:32 am

Thank you for that important clarification, Lunch Lady. And I agree – I haven’t heard that this has been an issue in my district, either.

Reply

Chef Lisa May 22, 2014 at 8:36 am

Please re-read the USDA Announcement, as it relates specifically to pasta and not all whole grain rich products.

Reply

Prarthana May 23, 2014 at 10:11 am

Do you know when the appropriations process will end?

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