Foodservice advocates, legislators reach common ground on Child Nutrition Reauthorization

School foodservice directors won a qualified victory last week when lawmakers agreed to incorporate changes sought by FSDs and nutritionists in a bill reauthorizing the federal school-lunch program. 

The integrity of the bill remains, with a few adjustments to help relieve challenges to FSDs, according to the School Nutrition Association, a trade group that represents school-foodservice professionals.

Among the concessions was an easing of contentious whole grain regulations, with the requirement rewritten to mandate that 80 percent of grains offered by schools participating in the federal school lunch program be whole grain rich, down from 100 percent.

The compromise also included a two-year extension for Target 2 sodium limits. Now slated for July 1, 2019, the cap on salt levels will coincide with the launch of a study on sodium reduction and whether the new limits are realistic for food companies.

The agreement also addresses FSDs’ concerns about mandatory fruit and vegetable servings. The fruits or vegetables students are required to take are often thrown away rather than eaten, FSDs have complained. Under the agreement, the USDA will inform local governments of best practices for maintaining salad bars and sharing tables, a step toward encouraging students to eat what they are required to put on their trays.

In 2014, a federal snack rule limited what items schools participating in the federal subsidy program could serve in vending machines and a la carte stations. Lawmakers agreed last week to include language in the reauthorization bill to form a working group that would advice the USDA on allowable a la carte items.

The SNA worked with the USDA and senators on the agreement. “In the absence of increased funding, this agreement eases operational challenges and provides school meal programs critical flexibility to help them plan healthy school meals that appeal to students,” SNA President Jean Ronnei, SNS, said in a news release.

Legislators have delayed consideration of the bill, set to renew every five years, since September.

A markup of the compromise bill, when the language would be finalized, is scheduled to begin tomorrow.

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