Delivering on his promise to act on feedback from dietary professionals, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced two proposals last week that will put local school and summer food service operators back in the driver’s seat of their programs, because they know their children best. Under the school meals proposed rule, school nutrition professionals have more flexibility to serve appetizing and healthy meals that appeal to their students’ preferences and subsequently reduce food waste. The proposed rule also encourages state and local operators to focus resources on feeding children rather than administrative paperwork. These improvements build on the 2018 reforms that preserve strong nutrition standards while providing schools the additional flexibilities they need to best serve America’s students.
“Schools and school districts continue to tell us that there is still too much food waste and that more common-sense flexibility is needed to provide students nutritious and appetizing meals. We listened and now we’re getting to work,” said Secretary Perdue. “Our proposed changes empower schools to give their very best to our children nationwide and have the potential to benefit nearly 100,000 schools and institutions that feed 30 million children each school day through USDA’s school meal programs. Providing children with wholesome, nutritious food is part of our motto at USDA, which is to ‘do right and feed everyone.’”
The school meals proposed rule would continue to ensure children receive wholesome, tasty meals that provide the nutrition they need to grow and thrive, while offering increased flexibilities for local school districts to serve children food they will want to eat, by:
- Allowing local schools to offer more vegetable varieties, while keeping plenty of veggies in each meal;
- Making it easier for schools to offer school lunch entrees for a la carte purchase, thereby reducing food waste;
- Providing schools options to customize meal patterns to best serve children in different grades or smaller schools who eat together;
- Supporting a more customized school breakfast environment by letting schools adjust fruit servings and making it simpler to offer meats/meat alternates, ultimately encouraging breakfast options outside the cafeteria so students can start their day with a healthy breakfast; and
- Shifting to a performance-focused administrative review process that is less burdensome and time consuming, which would increase collaboration with operators to improve program integrity.
USDA also proposed another rule with customer-focused reforms to the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), which serves more than 2.6 million children during the summer months, when they are at higher risk of food insecurity and poor nutrition because they do not have access to school meals. The summer feeding rule offers operators more local control to better serve children by:
- Providing more flexibilities in choosing meal offerings, meal service times, and allowing children to take certain nonperishable food items offsite;
- Granting tested and proven flexibilities that make it easier for sponsors and sites to participate by reducing paperwork and streamlining the application process for high-performing, experienced operators;
- Balancing program integrity and flexibility with stronger monitoring to help sponsors maximize their resources; and
- Clarifying performance standards and eligibility requirements for sites.
USDA remains committed to listening to and collaborating with customers, partners, and stakeholders to make these proposed reforms as effective as possible and encourages all those who are interested in school meals, summer meals, and all child nutrition programs to comment on the proposals once they publish on Regulations.gov.
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) works to reduce food insecurity and promote nutritious diets among the American people. The agency 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.
This is a press release from the USDA.