Stories from the Frontlines: School Cafeteria Professionals Discuss Challenges with New Standards

 

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Contact: Diane Pratt-Heavner  

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Stories from the Frontlines: School Cafeteria Professionals Discuss Challenges with New Standards  

 2014-05-28

National Harbor, MD (May 28, 2014) - With the House Appropriations Committee set to discuss school food standards tomorrow, school nutrition professionals are calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Congress to provide meal programs with flexibility to plan healthy school meals that students will eat.

Today eight school nutrition professionals, representing the 55,000 members of the School Nutrition Association (SNA), discussed challenges with implementing school meal regulations. Participants represented school districts large and small, urban and rural, struggling to manage operations budgets, regional challenges and customer taste preferences.

To listen to an audio recording of the conference call, click here.

“School cafeteria professionals nationwide are dedicated to ensuring students continue to receive healthy school meals that help them succeed in the classroom, and we are proud of the tremendous progress we’ve made,” said School Nutrition Association President Leah Schmidt, SNS. “However, school meal programs across the country are struggling with declining student participation, increased costs and overly prescriptive requirements that stifle menu creativity and reduce the appeal of healthy school meals. We are all working to encourage students to make nutritious choices, but in many school cafeterias, these regulations are hindering those efforts. School meal programs need more flexibility to plan healthy menus that appeal to students.”

Participants in the call echoed SNA’s national concerns, providing the following quotes in advance of the call:

"Our schools are constantly working to improve meals and encourage kids to accept whole grains, lower sodium foods and fruit and vegetable options. But under these standards, we are at serious risk of undermining that progress. More requirements placed on meal programs will drive costs up and prevent us from offering the variety that students have responded very well to. Decreased choices will turn even more students away from healthy school meals." Lori Adkins, MS, SNS, CHE, Child Nutrition Consultant, Oakland (MI) ISD

“Being in a large district, I am lucky that our purchasing power and a high quality staff training program has helped us manage costs, but I’m worried about next year when my Breakfast in the Classroom programs will have to add an extra half cup of produce and force kids to take a fruit with each breakfast. At 25-30 cents per serving, we expect these requirements to increase our produce costs by $900,000 next year.” Jonathan Dickl, MBA, SNS, Director, School Nutrition, Knox County (TN) SD

“These standards take all the creativity out of school meals. We have invested so much time in developing menus that meet all the various requirements that we are afraid to make even the slightest menu adjustments. Student participation and revenue is down in all nine school districts I serve, so we are laying off staff in all of our kitchens. We need flexibility.” Artie Frego, Director of Food Service, St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES (NY)

"I love what I do - feeding kids healthy meals every day. But we can't force students to eat something they don't want. Many families in the Southwest will not accept whole grain tortillas. Schools can't change cultural preferences. And with sky-high produce costs, we simply cannot afford to feed our trash cans. Every penny spent on whole grains and produce needs to go into the mouth of a hungry child." Lyman Graham, Food Service Director, Roswell ISD, Carlsbad Municipal and Dexter Consolidated Schools (NM)

“Under the new standards, North Carolina’s school meal expenditures have increased by $17 million, far surpassing our corresponding $14 million increase in revenue. More than half of North Carolina’s school meal programs are operating in the red as the school year ends. Our meal program operators are extremely concerned about the upcoming requirement that all grains must be whole grain rich, as our students are simply not finding some of the whole grain choices appealing.” Lynn Harvey, EdD, RDN, LDN, FAND, SNS, Chief, Child Nutrition Services, NC Dept. of Public Instruction

“In our schools we offer a variety of produce choices each day and are happy that some students choose to take multiple servings. But the older students, especially, know what they want, and some days they simply don’t want a fruit or vegetable with their meals. At about 25 cents a serving, the mandate to serve a fruit or vegetable has us throwing away money and making kids angry with us.” Dolores Sutterfield, Child Nutrition Director, Harrisburg (AR) SD

"We all need to reassess. There are some hiccups in the implementation of these standards that need to be evaluated before we go forward. We've had great success increasing fiber in meals and exposing students to produce they now choose and consume, but we also have tried things like whole grain breakfast biscuits that consistently do not work. Nutrition education is another important missing piece that we all need to support to further effectiveness of any nutrition standards." Wendy Weyer, RD, SNS, Director, Nutrition Services, Seattle (WA) SD

For more information, read SNA’s fact sheet.


About School Nutrition Association:
The School Nutrition Association (SNA) is a national, non-profit professional organization representing 55,000 school nutrition professionals across the country. Founded in 1946, SNA and its members are dedicated to making healthy school meals and nutrition education available to all students. To find out more about today’s school meals, visit www.TrayTalk.org.

 

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