USDA announces final rules for school snacks and Community Eligibility Provision

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Thursday announced final rules for K-12 meal programs that retain the current Community Eligibility Provision and include new exemptions for snacks. The rules, which help enforce the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, also include changes to the Local School Wellness Policy and Administrative Final Review after receiving public comment.

Originally rolled out in 2014, the Smart Snacks rule extends nutrition regulations to all foods sold in school, including snacks and a la carte. Now, the rule—which already made exceptions for fresh, frozen and canned fruits—includes an exemption for low-sodium and no-salt-added canned vegetables. Whole eggs with no added fat have also been pardoned from saturated- and total-fat standards. Still standing is the 50% whole-grain mandate for all grain items, and the requirement that the first ingredient of a non-whole grain product be from a main food group, such as dairy.

Requiring schools to only market options that meet Smart Snack standards, the Local School Wellness Policy has been updated to mandate that schools create a plan enlisting parents and the community to take part in school nutrition. “The Local Wellness Policy empowers parents and communities to take an active role in the health of their children, ensuring stakeholder participation in the development of school wellness policies and the assessment of compliance and progress toward the agreed upon goals,” Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary Katie Wilson said at a press event.

The Administrative Final Review, which sets school meal accountability standards with measures such as ensuring weekly school meals meet dietary regulations, will now allow for reviews to be made available to the public upon request to help ensure taxpayer dollars are being invested as intended, Wilson said.

Most of the rules, like the CEP, have been relatively unchanged due to positive feedback, Wilson said. CEP streamlines the process of offering free or reduced-price lunch to all students by assessing eligibility through federal aid programs, such as SNAP. At least 40% of students need to be considered eligible to offer universal free lunch under the current rules. Although, a House child nutrition reauthorization bill under consideration would raise this qualification to 60%.

“These actions that we are announcing today continue the Obama Administration’s historic commitment to building a healthier next generation and ensuring that schools are a healthy place for kids to learn,” Wilson said.  

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