Friday, May 12, 2017

Make School Meals Great Again?

If you are like me, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture's school meal program announcement came as a shock.  After doing a little research, the changes aren’t nearly as dramatic as they seem at face value. The new proclamation gives states control of guidelines on whole grains, sodium and milk. The rest (the meat and potatoes if you will) of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA) nutrition standards remain untouched. Here’s the inside scoop:

·         Whole Grains – Since many schools are finding it hard to obtain whole-grain rich products and prepare them in a way that is appealing to students, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) “will allow states to grant exemptions to schools experiencing hardship in serving 100 percent of grain products as whole-grain rich for School Year 2017-2018”. This system has actually been in place since the 2015 appropriations bill.

·         Sodium – We all know that too much sodium can negatively impact our health (if you didn’t know; now you do!). To this end, the HHFKA requires schools to gradually (over 10 years) reduce the amount of sodium in school meals. A mandated sodium reduction was set to take effect July 1, 2017 however; the new proclamation states that schools do not have to meet this reduction until 2020.

·         Milk –Schools can now offer 1% flavored milk to students. This is a change since schools can currently only offer flavored milk that is fat-free and unflavored low-fat milk.

The take away message – it is going to take longer for schools to fully meet the HHFKA nutrition standards. In the meantime the USDA is working to implement long term solutions and provide technical assistance to school districts so they can better comply with the nutrition standards.

For more information on the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA):