House Committee Approves Healthy School Meals Waiver; 19 Past Presidents Break With School Nutrition Association

Yesterday the House Appropriations Committee approved the fiscal 2015 spending bill with controversial language, drafted by Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), which would allow struggling schools to request a 12-month waiver from complying with healthier school food standards.  While that might sound innocuous, this waiver, which was strenuously opposed by the First Lady and school food advocates (including this one), is considered just the first salvo in a battle to unravel those standards during the Child Nutrition Reauthorization next year. The bill will now go to the House floor before being conferenced with the Senate version.  More on the yesterday’s House vote and its implications here.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, nineteen past presidents of the School Nutrition Association (the organization pushing hard for healthy school food roll-backs) broke with their own organization to urge Congress to stay the course on nutritious school meals.  The text of that letter is here:

School Nutrition Association
Past Presidents Initiative

May 27, 2014
The Honorable (Senate and House Members of Committees on Agriculture Appropriations)

Dear Agriculture Appropriations Conference Committee:

Thank you for passing the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 that is helping school nutrition
programs be part of a strong response to the nation’s obesity epidemic. Most schools are
having success implementing the HHFKA. However some schools report difficulty meeting the
requirements and are requesting waivers.

We the undersigned past presidents of the School Nutrition Association, understand that major
change takes time and a commitment to the goal that prompted the change. We believe most
communities and schools want school nutrition programs that help children learn to enjoy
healthy foods. We are confident that the broad public support for HHFKA and USDA’s
demonstrated willingness to work with school leaders to solve implementation issues will prevail
and create stronger school nutrition programs.

We urge you to reject calls for waivers, maintain strong standards in all schools, and direct
USDA to continue working with school leaders and state directors to find ways, including
technical assistance, that will ensure all schools can meet the HHFKA standards. Specific
concerns regarding whole grains and sodium can be addressed as technical corrections.
We must not reverse the progress that was sought by school leaders and is well on its way to
success in most schools. Should you need additional information please contact Jane Wynn at
954-545-4873(h) or 954-830-0777(c) or Shirley Watkins at 301-520-8558 (c).

Shirley Watkins, former USDA Under Secretary FNCS
Katie Wilson, PhD, Executive Director National Food Service Management Institute
Josephine Martin, PhD, former Executive Director National Food Service Management Institute
Dorothy Caldwell, former USDA Deputy Administrator of FNS
Mary Nix former Cobb County, GA School Nutrition Director
Jane Wynn, former Broward County, FL School Nutrition Director
Anne Gennings, former New Hartford, NY School Nutrition Director
Mary Hill, Director of School Nutrition, Jackson, MS
Dora Rivas, Executive Director Food & Child Nutrition Services Dallas ISD, TX
Helen Phillips, Senior Director School Nutrition Norfolk, VA
Elizabeth McPherson, Former Food Service Director Caswell, NC
Phyllis Griffith, Former Child Nutrition Services Director Columbus, OH
Nancy Rice, State Director GA Child Nutrition Programs
Gene White, President Global Child Nutrition Foundation School Nutrition Association
Past Presidents Initiative
Marcia Smith, PhD, former Food Service Director, Polk County, FL
Gaye Lynn MacDonald, Consultant & Former Food Service Director Bellingham, WA
Penny McConnell, Director of Food Service Fairfax County, VA
Beverly Lowe, Consultant, Former Food Service Director Hampton, VA
Thelma Becker, Retired Former Food Service Director PA

Cc: Honorable Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
Honorable FNCS Under Secretary Kevin Concannon
Dr. Janey Thornton, USDA FNCS Deputy Under Secretary

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Bettina Elias Siegel


  1. Lunch Lady says


    Talk about throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

    Do we need to take a second look at Sodium Target 2? Yes.

    Do we need to take some time for bakeries to create good tasting whole grain rich items like biscuits, grits, and crackers? Yes.

    Do we need to exempt school districts from following the basic regulations on calories, sat fat, and vegetable subgroups? No.

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Lunch Lady: Even the IOM said that lowering sodium further might be problematic, so I’m keeping an open mind on that one. And I might agree about the need to give manufacturers more time on the whole grain options — I’d need more info to know if that’s really true, though I trust school food professionals like you who say it is. But I’m wondering — what do you think about SNA’s goal of switching back to offer vs. serve on the fruits and vegetables?

      • Ra says

        Let’s be careful about this. The IOM said “that the evidence supports a positive relationship between higher levels of sodium intake and risk of CVD. This is consistent with existing evidence on blood pressure as a surrogate indicator of CVD and stroke risk for the general population. The committee also concludes that studies on health outcomes are inconsistent in quality and insufficient in quantity to determine that sodium intakes below 2,300 mg/day [in adults] either increase or decrease the risk of heart disease, stroke, or all-cause mortality in the general U.S. population.”

        So they’re not saying that the existing guideline is too low — just that pushing it further (such as to the 1500 mg recommended for some groups and that some organizations have recommended population-wide) is not well-supported by the evidence for health outcomes. And there is simply no realistic risk that feeding children school meals compliant with even the most aggressive of targets (430mg per meal in, K-5; 470mg, 6-8; 470mg; 500mg, 9-12, for school year 2022/23) is going to push them substantially below what the IOM continues to say is a safe level:

        “In 2004, Statistics Canada found that most Canadians far exceed this recommended sodium intake. They shockingly found that the average sodium intake for each age group were:

        – 2000 mg for children aged 1 to 3
        – 2700 mg for children aged 4 to 8
        – 3300 mg for people aged 9 to 50
        – 3000 mg for adults aged 51 to 70
        – 2500 mg for seniors aged 70+”

        A single small bag of Doritos contains 260 mg of sodium. Unless children eat truly unusual diets at home (no bread, no added salt, no processed food), they will be getting plenty of salt in ten years, and more than enough today.

  2. Lunch Lady says

    Sodium Target 1 is no problem. We’ve been doing it this whole year.

    I am totally in for requiring 100% whole grain rich, BUT we have had some major difficulties finding certain whole grain rich products that are staples in our breakfast and lunch programs that actually taste good. I think bakeries and pasta vendors just need an extra year or two to make that happen.

    Offer vs. Serve is still in effect … in fact, it is required at the high school level. However, the ongoing battle has been the rule that requires one of the five components taken to be a fruit or vegetable.

    We have not had a problem in my district with this requirement, BUT I have several director friends that have really, really struggled with this new regulation. Their costs are up, their plate waste is up, and their participation is down. My data shows the exact opposite.

    Interestingly enough, the large, urban, higher f/r districts seem to be doing well with the new regulations while the small, affluent districts are really hurting.

    My bigger concern is about the additional 1/2 cup fruit at breakfast. That is going to really impact me fiscally. I started offering the additional 1/2 cup in January just to see what would happen. It was disasterous to our budget. With fresh fruit costs around $0.20-25/serving, that is not something I can take on with no additional reimbursement. It KILLS me, but the only way I can meet this requirement of offering 1 cup of fruit at breakfast is to always do 1/2 cup as 100% juice and the other 1/2 cup as a canned fruit. I’ll make sure it is canned in juice versus syrup, but still … I’d rather it be fresh.

    I also cannot believe that you can’t serve more than 12oz of fat free flavored milk, but you can serve a sugar-free Red Bull or low-carb Moster drink. Really???

    • Bettina Elias Siegel says

      Lunch Lady: Sorry for the late reply to your comment. I actually had composed a response and it somehow got lost in the ether.

      At any rate, When I referenced OVS and the fruit/veg, that’s what I meant – sorry if my shorthand was confusing. And to me, this is a really big deal. Making kids take fruit/veg is no doubt a contributor to food waste, but letting them skip it every single day, as was often the case before the HHFKA, teaches kids that those foods are not necessary parts of a meal when, in fact, we know we should be filling at least half of our plates with those foods.

      As for breakfast, I’m hearing the exact same concerns here in HISD. And, like you, it kills me that districts are going to turn to juice out of necessity.

      Thanks so much, as always, for your contribution to this blog via your informed comments.


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