USDA eliminates grain, protein maximums for school meals

Change only affects current school year.

Dec. 10—The USDA has eliminated weekly grain and protein maximums for school lunches. Since July 1, per guidelines set forth under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, schools could not serve more than a specified amount of grains and proteins each week. Many child nutrition directors expressed frustration in trying to meet these requirements.

For the remainder of the current school year, foodservice operations no longer must stay under the grain and protein maximums in order to receive federal reimbursement. The USDA has not stated whether these changes will carry over into the 2013-2014 school year.

“This [grain maximum] has limited menu planners’ flexibility and in some cases has unintentionally precluded offering popular items such as sandwiches on a daily basis,” Cynthia Long, director of the USDA’s Child Nutrition Division, said in a release announcing the changes.

“School nutrition professionals have faced significant menu planning, operating, financial challenges and more as a result of the new meal pattern requirements,” said School Nutrition Association President Sandra Ford. “USDA's new guidance acknowledges those challenges and gives school meal programs more flexibility. By easing weekly maximums for grains and proteins but maintaining calorie limits, USDA protects the nutritional integrity of the new standards while giving school meal programs more time to design healthy menus that meet both the new standards and students’ tastes.”