School Lunches USDA

6 ways USDA is changing the nation’s school lunch program

USDA proposes changes to the nation’s school lunch program and invites the public to comment on the new guidelines.

In the last decade, our nation’s youth have been subjected to changes to the federal school lunch program. With limitations on burgers and milk and an extra emphasis on grains, vegetables and fruits, the changes have left our kids underfed and undernourished with plenty of food tossed in the trash.

These decisions have impacted 100,000 schools and 30 million children, and an additional 15 million children who eat breakfast and lunch at school.

It’s been frustrating, to say the least, and the rigid federal requirements have particularly hurt smaller schools without the overhead and administrative support to meet the imposed guidelines.

However, all that is about to change. Through two new proposals, which are now open to public comments, here are six ways the USDA is providing more flexibility and local power for schools to serve meals that are both healthful and delicious.

1. Hiring flexibility rule

According to the Daily Herald, of Provo, Utah, “In 2015, USDA established education and training requirements for nutrition professionals as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. While this strengthened many school meal programs, some small school districts faced challenges finding qualified applicants to direct their local food service operation. The new proposal would provide much-needed relief for school districts with less than 2,500 students, allowing them more flexibility in the hiring of new school nutrition program directors.”

“Small and rural school districts will no longer have to overlook qualified food service professionals because of one-size-fits-all standards that don’t meet their needs,” said USDA deputy secretary Steve Censky. “We trust our local partners to hire talented school nutrition program directors who will manage the meal service in a way that protects the health and well-being of students.”

2. Food crediting info requests

The Daily Herald reports, “To support states’ efforts to improve program integrity, USDA also rolled out a suite of customizable resources to help local school districts improve the accuracy of their school meal application processes. These resources include support for online applications, evidenced-based materials, and best practices to simplify the process for families and ensure that eligible children receive free and reduced-priced meals.”

Additionally, schools now have access to USDA’s open-source online school meal application model, which was developed with the help of local food service professionals.

3. Publishing the School Meal Flexibility rule

“This provides local food service professionals the flexibility they need to serve wholesome, nutritious, and tasty meals in schools across the nation,” reports the Daily Herald.

4. Releasing “The Food Buying Guide”

This mobile app provides information to food service professionals as they put together school lunch and breakfast menus.

5. Kansas State University (KSU) will guide the Center for Food Safety in Child Nutrition Program

KSU’s efforts will help improve food safety for all of USDA’s child nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, the Summer Food Service Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

6. Getting the public involved

With 60 days to comment on the proposed changes, the USDA also invites the public to submit ideas on food crediting and help define how each food item contributes to the meal requirements of the USDA’s numerous food programs.

I’m hoping these changes will allow small schools to make decisions that make sense locally. Whether that’s sourcing beef and other foods from area producers or selecting menu items that the kids will actually eat instead of throwing in the trash, reform was definitely needed in this arena. Our nation’s youth deserve great-tasting and healthy meals, and that can only be achieved through local control and flexibility for decision making that makes sense for individual schools, instead of a one-size-fits-all plan that leaves many in the dust.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.

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