Every school day, federal child nutrition programs provide nutritious meals that are critical to the health and academic success of more than 30 million students nationwide. The federal government plays a vital role in the success of these programs: providing reimbursements for each meal served, ensuring equal access to free and reduced price meals for students in need and administering national nutrition standards.
The School Nutrition Association (SNA), representing 57,000 professionals who work on the frontlines in school nutrition programs, urges Congress and the Administration to protect students by strengthening the federal government’s commitment to these programs. Congress should bolster historically under-funded school meal programs, which contribute to economic growth and national security, and USDA should continue to minimize unnecessary regulatory burdens. SNA specifically requests that Congress:
Oppose any effort to block grant school meal programs
Block grants will dismantle an effective and crucial federal program, putting students at risk by cutting funds and abolishing federal standards for school meals. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) warned that block grants could “eliminate access to nutrition programs for some children and reduce it for others.” Fixed-sum block grants would leave states without adequate funds to respond to unforeseen circumstances, including natural disasters or economic recessions. Students in need would go without. Learn More
Support H.R. 3738, the Healthy Breakfasts Help Kids Learn Act, to provide 6 cents in USDA Foods (commodities) for every school breakfast served
Currently, commodity support is only provided for school lunch. Expanding USDA Foods to support the School Breakfast Program will allow more students to benefit from a nutritious school breakfast, help schools cover rising costs and advance USDA’s mission of supporting America’s farmers.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides two types of assistance to the schools participating in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP): cash reimbursement for meals served and USDA Foods, or “commodities.” Participating schools rely on this aid to operate school meal programs.
The USDA Foods program purchases high-quality domestic agricultural products and distributes them to states for use in preparing school meals. USDA purchases include fruits and vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy foods, whole grains and oils. USDA Foods account for approximately 15-20 percent of the foods served as part of school lunch.
Although USDA Foods may be served as part of school breakfast, a state’s USDA Foods entitlement is based only on the number of lunches served and does not account for the more than 14 million breakfasts served each school day.
With research affirming the importance of breakfast to academic success, school nutrition programs have worked to increase student access to healthy school breakfasts. Expanding USDA Foods to support the School Breakfast Program would sustain this effort, ease the burden on financially strapped meal programs and advance USDA’s mission of supporting America’s farmers.
Within the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, Congress provided schools an additional 6 cents per lunch to meet the updated nutrition standards. Congress could support the School Breakfast Program and US farmers by passing H.R. 3738, the Healthy Breakfasts Help Kids Learn Act. H.R. 3738 provides schools 6 cents in commodities for every breakfast served, at a cost of $147 million annually (based on the number of breakfasts served in Fiscal Year 2016).
Expanding USDA Foods Will Support Students:
Expanding USDA Foods would allow more children to enjoy a wider variety of American grown foods as part of a nutritious school breakfast. USDA Foods support would also help schools invest in innovative breakfast in the classroom or grab-and-go breakfast programs, proven to increase school breakfast consumption.
Research shows students who eat school breakfast perform better on standardized tests, and have improved classroom behavior and attendance. With 13 million children living in food insecure households in the U.S., school breakfast is critical to ensuring students receive the nutrition they need to succeed at school.
Expanding USDA Foods Will Support Schools:
Updated nutrition standards required schools to increase the quantity of whole grains, fruits and vegetables they serve, but federal funding increases have not kept pace with costs. USDA estimated the cost of meeting new school breakfast mandates would increase food and labor expenses by 27 cents per breakfast, yet no additional funding or USDA Foods entitlement was provided to help schools manage higher breakfast costs. School meal programs have struggled in recent years to manage these rising food and labor expenses.
Thanks to USDA’s large volume purchasing power, schools are able to “purchase” USDA Foods at a lower price point than in the commercial market, allowing schools to stretch their food dollars further.
Providing USDA Foods for school breakfast would help reduce schools’ food expenditures, allowing them to manage rising costs and invest limited foodservice dollars into menu improvements for students.
Expanding USDA Foods Will Support Farmers:
Expanding USDA Foods helps farmers by increasing purchases of 100% American grown foods. To ensure the program supports the domestic agricultural market, nearly 60 percent of the foods purchased must be determined by USDA to be in surplus. Thanks to DoD Fresh, schools have dramatically increased purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables through regionally-based produce vendors, to the benefit of local growers and students.
Continue to monitor and support USDA’s work to simplify overly burdensome child nutrition mandates to improve efficiencies and reduce costs
Duplicative administrative requirements divert school nutrition professionals’ attention from their mission of nourishing students.
USDA is modifying federal nutrition regulations to help school menu planners manage challenges and prepare nutritious meals that appeal to diverse student tastes. Overly prescriptive regulations resulted in unintended consequences, including reduced student lunch participation, higher costs and food waste. Therefore, SNA asks Congress to monitor USDA’s efforts to provide school meal program flexibility. The final rule should:
- Maintain the Target 1 sodium levels and eliminate future targets. The Institute of Medicine warned that “reducing the sodium content of school meals as specified and in a way that is well accepted by students will present major challenges and may not be possible.” (School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children, 2010)
- Restore the initial requirement that at least half of grains offered with school meals be whole grain rich. The current mandate that all grains offered be whole grain rich has increased waste and costs and contributed to the decline in student lunch participation. Students are eating more whole grains, but schools still struggle with students’ regional and cultural preferences for specific refined grains, such as white rice, pasta, grits or tortillas. The temporary whole grain waiver process is inconsistent across states, limiting the availability of waivers to struggling schools unable to meet overly burdensome application mandates.
SNA supports maintaining robust federal nutrition standards to ensure all students receive healthy, well-balanced meals at school. However, some overly prescriptive rules have resulted in unintended consequences, including reduced student lunch participation, higher costs and food waste.
USDA is modifying federal nutrition regulations to help school menu planners manage these challenges and prepare nutritious meals that appeal to diverse student tastes. An interim final rule on school meal program flexibility was published in November; the final rule will be published in fall 2018. Congress should monitor the rulemaking process. The final rule should:
Maintain the Target 1 sodium levels and eliminate future targets:
Schools made significant sodium reductions to meet Target 1, effective July 2014. The Institute of Medicine warned that “reducing the sodium content of school meals as specified and in a way that is well accepted by students will present major challenges and may not be possible.” (School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children, 2010)
A recent School Nutrition Association (SNA) survey found that 92% of responding school districts are concerned about the availability of foods that will meet future sodium limits and are well accepted by students. Naturally occurring sodium present in meat, milk and other low-fat dairy foods will force schools to take nutritious choices off the menu, including many soups, entrée salads and low-fat deli sandwiches.
The Government Accountability Office warned that forthcoming limits on sodium would remain problematic with cost and product availability making sodium targets difficult for many schools to implement.
Restore the initial requirement that at least half of grains offered with school meals be whole grain rich:
The current mandate that all grains must be whole grain rich has increased waste and costs, while contributing to the decline in student lunch participation. A recent SNA survey found that despite widespread efforts to increase student acceptance of whole grain foods, 65% of responding school nutrition directors reported continued challenges with the current whole grain mandates. A majority of school meal programs struggle with students’ regional and cultural preferences for specific refined grains. Schools should be permitted to serve white rice, pasta, grits or tortillas on occasion, just like most families do.
USDA established a whole grain waiver allowing struggling schools to serve select foods that do not meet the standard, but the waiver process is inconsistent across states. Several states do not readily offer the waiver to struggling schools, or have made the application process so cumbersome that schools overwhelmed by administrative duties are discouraged from applying. Overly burdensome mandates, including required documentation that some schools have no means to collect, have severely limited the availability of this much-needed regulatory relief. In addition, the waiver process consumes limited State Agency resources that would be better spent providing technical assistance to school districts. The most effective solution is to restore the 2012 requirement that at least half of grains offered with school meals be whole grain rich.