I’m emerging from my blogging vacation to share some big news in school food.
The USDA has just announced that, at least for the remainder of this school year, it is no longer requiring that districts comply with the weekly caps on grain and protein servings instituted this fall as part of the agency’s school meal pattern overhaul.
You may recall that these caps were causing food service directors all sorts of unforeseen problems. Dana Woldow, school food reformer in San Francisco USD, wrote a great article showing how the grain and protein limits impeded serving even healthy choices like soups and sandwiches. Justin Gagnon of Choicelunch wrote here that the caps discouraged scratch cooking in favor of processed foods and TLT’s anonymous school food professional, Wilma, felt that the caps gave food service directors an incentive to build “empty calories” into their menus. And, of course, it was these caps that led, in part, to widespread student complaints that portion sizes were too small to satisfy their hunger.
I’m told that food service directors are thrilled with this development but major food manufacturers, which scrambled to reformulate their products to meet the new regulations, are not so happy. No word yet on whether the suspension of these caps will continue next year.
One question that arises, though, is the degree to which all districts can really take advantage of this reprieve. Here in Houston ISD, the nation’s seventh largest district, purchasing and menu planning take place several months in advance. It may be impossible for HISD to change course in a meaningful way at this point, and I’m guessing that may well be true for other large, urban districts around the country.
If you’re a school food professional and have feedback on the USDA announcement, please feel free to share it in a comment below.
[Thanks to TLT's anonymous school food professional, Wilma, for her behind-the-scenes insights on this development.]
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