School meals nourish the bodies and fuel the minds of nearly 30 million students each school day. The School Nutrition Association (SNA), representing 58,000 professionals who work on the frontlines in school cafeterias, urges Congress and the Administration to strengthen the federal government’s commitment to historically under-funded child nutrition programs and minimize unnecessary regulatory burdens.
SNA also calls on Congress to:
Continue and Increase USDA Foods (Commodities) Support for the School Breakfast Program (SBP)
The FY 2019 Agriculture Appropriations Bill contains $20 million for breakfast commodities. Expanding USDA Foods to support SBP 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 USDA Foods program purchases high-quality domestic agricultural commodities and distributes them to states for use in preparing school meals. USDA Foods include fruits and vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy foods, whole grains and oils and account for approximately 15-20 percent of the foods served as part of school lunch.
Although USDA Foods may be served with 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.
Schools are working to increase student access to healthy school breakfasts, as research shows that breakfast consumption improves student behavior, attendance and performance on standardized tests. To sustain these efforts, the FY 2019 Agriculture Appropriations Bill contains $20 million for breakfast commodities. Congress should support students, US farmers and school meal programs by expanding this funding in FY 2020.
Expanding USDA Foods will:
- Benefit students by allowing 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 programs, which are proven to increase school breakfast consumption and better serve the 13 million children living in food insecure households. Click here to learn how many students participate in SBP in your state.
- Support farmers by increasing purchases of 100% American-grown foods and creating a larger market for high-quality surplus agricultural products. USDA Foods is even allowing schools to source fresh fruits and vegetables from local growers through the USDA Department of Defense Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (DoD Fresh). Click here to learn about the USDA Foods purchased in your state.
- Help schools by reducing their food expenditures, allowing them to manage rising costs and invest limited foodservice dollars into menu improvements for students. USDA estimated the cost of meeting updated nutrition standards for school breakfast would increase food and labor expenses by 27 cents per breakfast, yet no additional funding or USDA Foods entitlement was provided. Thanks to USDA’s large volume purchasing power, schools can order USDA Foods at a lower price point than in the commercial market, allowing schools to stretch their food dollars further.
Support USDA’s Ongoing Effort to Simplify Child Nutrition Programs
Simplifying overly complex program regulations will minimize costs, allowing school nutrition professionals to invest time and resources into program improvements for students. As part of this effort:
Encourage USDA to return to the five-year Administrative Review (AR) Cycle for School Food Authorities (SFAs) that consistently operate in compliance
SFAs are overwhelmed by excessive AR reporting requirements and State agencies lack adequate staff and resources to effectively sustain the three-year AR cycle. A five-year cycle for SFAs consistently in compliance will maintain accountability and allow State agencies to conduct more thorough reviews. State agencies will have more resources to provide SFAs support and technical assistance, and school nutrition professionals can focus more time on serving students.
School nutrition professionals strive to be responsible stewards of federal funds and welcome efforts to ensure school meal programs fully comply with regulatory requirements. However, SFAs and State agencies alike have struggled to manage increased workloads under the shorter review cycle mandated under The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. These administrative burdens hinder efforts to improve school meal programs for students.
For SFAs, the AR process is so cumbersome that school nutrition directors spend days compiling data and completing pre-review paperwork, plus additional days for the on-site review and follow up. Layered on top of monthly and annual reporting requirements and additional audits and inspections, these administrative mandates take substantial time away from the mission of serving students. Many school districts table significant program improvements, like launching a new breakfast in the classroom or farm to school initiative, until after their “AR year.”
Meanwhile the shorter review cycle forces State agencies to divert substantial staff time and travel budgets to more frequent reviews. With resources stretched thin, many State agencies have reduced training sessions and other support for SFAs.
A five-year cycle for SFAs consistently in compliance will maintain accountability by focusing on the quality of reviews over the quantity. State agencies will have more time to conduct thorough reviews and more resources to provide SFAs support and technical assistance. School nutrition directors will spend less time at their desks and more time in the cafeteria interacting with students and staff.
“High-risk” SFAs that do not comply with the regulations should undergo ARs on a more frequent basis to help bring them into compliance with federal mandates. State agencies should collaborate to ensure “risk factors” for establishing the frequency of administrative reviews are as consistent as possible to promote a high operational standard across the country.
Encourage USDA to modify the Smart Snacks in School rule to allow all menu items that are permitted to be served as part of a reimbursable meal to be sold at any time a la carte
Allowing foods that already meet nutrition standards for school meals to be sold as daily a la carte choices relieves unnecessary menu planning inconsistencies and ensures students can choose from a variety of healthy options in the cafeteria.
SNA supports ensuring “competitive foods,” sold a la carte and in vending machines, meet school nutrition standards, so all foods sold in school are healthy choices. However, the Smart Snacks in School rule forced schools to take many healthy school meal options off of their a la carte menus and created inconsistent rules that unnecessarily limit student choice and reduce revenue for school meal programs.
School meal standards set limits on unhealthy, saturated fat, but Smart Snacks inexplicably limits total fat to 35% of calories or less, pushing heart-healthy foods rich in unsaturated fats off a la carte menus. Veggies brushed with olive oil don’t make the cut. Guacamole and hummus, promoted under meal standards as a healthy way to introduce students to legumes, are prohibited in the a la carte line because they are too high in the kind of healthy fats that help keep cholesterol in check. School nutrition professionals struggle to make sense of two sets of complicated, sometimes conflicting, standards for the same foods.
School meal standards are gradually phasing in sodium reductions, but the Smart Snacks rule did not, forcing competitive foods to meet excessively low sodium limits. For instance, a 2-ounce equivalent of USDA’s low-fat deli-style turkey breast – without bread, cheese or condiments – surpasses the sodium limit for entrees (≤480 mg). Salads, or vegetables paired with dip, have also taken a hit as the sodium in low fat dressing often exceeds limits.
Indeed, none of the popular Panera Bread salads, sandwiches or soups meets Smart Snacks entrée standards, and health conscious fans of Sweetgreen will not find one of the chain’s “simple, seasonal, healthy salads and grain bowls made in-house from scratch” that even comes close to meeting Smart Snacks mandates.
Allowing foods that meet nutrition standards for school meals to be sold as daily a la carte choices ensures students can choose from a variety of healthy options in the cafeteria. This change will also relieve unnecessary administrative burdens for school nutrition professionals and help preserve the financial sustainability of school meal programs.
Urge USDA and the US Department of Education, in Collaboration with SFAs, to Develop Best Practices and Guidance to Ensure School Schedules Provide Students Adequate Time to Eat Healthy School Meals
Short lunch periods are a concern for all students – especially millions of food-insecure children who depend on school meal programs. To increase consumption of fruits and vegetables, which take longer to consume, and to minimize food waste, schools must schedule adequate time for students to select and consume their meals.
Short lunch periods are a concern for all students – especially millions of food-insecure children who depend on school meal programs as a primary source of key nutrients. Research demonstrates that school breakfast and lunch programs support obesity prevention, student health and academic achievement. Schools must ensure students have adequate time to consume these meals.
School meals include more fresh fruits and vegetables, and these high-fiber, crunchy foods take more time to eat. Short lunch periods cause many students to eat the entree first and discard the nutrientdense fruits, vegetables and milk that they don’t have time to finish.
Research shows student consumption of school meals is “significantly associated” with the amount of time to eat. Students with shorter lunch periods were less likely to select fruit and ate less of their vegetables, milk and entrees. Researchers concluded that “school policies that encourage lunches with at least 25 minutes of seated time may reduce food waste and improve dietary intake.”
As part of their “School Health Guidelines to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended “ensuring sufficient time to receive and consume a meal, with at least 10 minutes for eating breakfast and 20 minutes for eating lunch after being seated.”
Any effort to address time to eat must focus on “seat time,” as lunch periods also require adequate time for students to get to the cafeteria and collect their meals. School cafeteria professionals minimize time spent in line by streamlining the serving process, offering grab-and-go options or establishing multiple points of sale, including hallway kiosks or healthy vending machines. However, in overcrowded schools or those that establish single lunch period schedules (often called “Power Hour”), school meal programs often struggle to serve students in a timely fashion. School nutrition professionals must be included in scheduling decisions to ensure students have adequate time to eat.
Oppose Any Effort to Block Grant School Meal Programs
School meal programs depend on entitlement status and guaranteed federal reimbursements for each meal served to ensure students in need have access to free and reduced price meals and to support the health and achievement of all students.
In 1946, the federal government made a promise to America’s families that students will always have access to healthy meals at school. Today, nearly 30 million students rely on federally funded school meals to provide the nutrition they need to succeed.
Fixed-sum school meal block grants to the states would eliminate that long standing guarantee with devastating funding cuts and the elimination of all federal school nutrition standards. School meal programs depend on entitlement status and guaranteed federal reimbursements for each meal served to ensure students in need have consistent access to free and reduced price meals and to support the health and achievement of all students.
Block grants represent a dramatic and dangerous policy shift that would put children at risk by financially crippling school meal programs. Schools would no longer receive funds to serve additional at-risk students when economic downturns or rising enrollments increase the number of children who need free or reduced price meals. Even vulnerable children who need temporary assistance due to a natural disaster could be denied school meals.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office warned that: “block grants that are smaller than the funding that current legislation would provide would probably eliminate access to nutrition programs for some children and reduce it for others. Such grants would also leave the programs unable to respond automatically to economic downturns.”
Research shows school breakfast and lunch programs support obesity prevention, student health and academic achievement. We cannot afford to dismantle these effective programs. The Stop the Block Coalition is calling on Congress to protect our children and preserve school meals – learn more at StopBlockGrantsNow.org.
SNA appreciates ongoing efforts by USDA and Congress to address operational challenges and expand student access to free and reduced price meals through direct certification and the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP).