U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue recently announced a range of nationwide flexibilities to ensure America’s children receive the nutritious food they need throughout the upcoming school year. These waivers give states, schools, and childcare providers time to plan for how they will serve children in the fall, including allowing for new and innovative feeding options as the nation recovers from the coronavirus.
“As the country re-opens and schools prepare for the fall, a one-size-fits-all approach to meal service simply won’t cut it,” said Secretary Sonny Perdue. “The flexibilities announced today give states, schools, and child care providers the certainty they need to operate the USDA child nutrition programs in ways that make sense given their local, on-the-ground situations and ensure America’s children can count on meal service throughout the school year.”
As fall nears, schools are considering many different learning models. This announcement empowers them to operate the School Breakfast Program (SBP) and National School Lunch Program (NSLP) to best serve their students throughout the 2020-2021 school year. It also allows providers in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) to tailor operations to serve the children in their care. USDA is providing flexibilities around meal patterns, group-setting requirements, meal service times, and parent/guardian pick-up of meals for kids across all three programs to address anticipated changes for the coming school year.
USDA is also announcing a new flexibility that waives the requirement for high schools to provide students the option to select some of the foods offered in a meal. While this practice, known as “offer versus serve” is encouraged, social distancing or meals-in-the-classroom models would make this regulatory requirement difficult. Collectively, these waivers reduce barriers to meal service options that support a transition back to normal operations while simultaneously responding to evolving local conditions.
The following nationwide waivers will remain in effect through June 30, 2021 for the SBP, NSLP, and CACFP. These flexibilities allow for:
- Meals that do not meet normal meal pattern requirements when necessary to keep kids fed;
- Meals to be served outside of group settings and outside of standard times to facilitate grab-and-go and other alternate service options; and
- Parent/guardian pick-up of meals for students participating in distance learning.
The new waiver applies to the NSLP’s “offer versus serve” requirement for high schools, which would be difficult to execute while maintaining social distancing, particularly if meals are prepackaged for in-classroom or grab-and-go service.
FNS previously extended numerous waivers through the summer months to give summer program operators the continued flexibility they need to leverage innovative solutions in support of social distancing – such as delivery and grab n’ go – without interruption. These waivers ensure all children can access free meals throughout the summer. Families can use FNS’s Meals for Kids interactive site finder to locate free meals for children ages 18 and under this summer at 67,000 sites across the nation.
FNS administers 15 nutrition assistance programs that leverage American’s agricultural abundance to ensure children and low-income individuals and families have nutritious food to eat. FNS also co-develops the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which provide science-based nutrition recommendations and serve as the cornerstone of federal nutrition policy.