Era of healthier school meals begins

The opening of schools means new headaches for foodservice departments.

With Labor Day fast approaching, school districts are either already in session or preparing to open their doors for the new year. That means the opening of books, the sharpening of pencils, and the oodles of paperwork that comes with the start of a new academic season.

And that’s just for the foodservice department.

The passage of new federal regulations requiring school districts to serve healthier meals didn’t come simply with a mandate to achieve the aforementioned goal. It also came with reams of forms, not only to spell out exactly how the regulations must be met but for directors to prove that they are actually meeting the requirements.

In an editorial published Aug. 26, The Oregonian newspaper in Portland says “the standards come with rules so detailed and prescriptive, they threaten to kill the kinds of nutritional programs they are supposed to foster.” The editorial talks about Abernethy Elementary School, part of Portland Public Schools, possibly having to shut down its Kitchen Garden program, from which the foodservice staff gather much of the produce they use in preparing students’ meals.

We’ve heard this song before. Every time legislators create new regulations, such as validating the applications of parents applying for free or reduced-price meals for their kids, they require so much paperwork that districts become too frustrated to want to continue the program. We appreciate the need for a checks and balance system for any federally funded program, but does the paperwork have to be so onerous as to dissuade compliance—perhaps even cause districts to abandon their foodservice programs? That’s the question the federal government must find an answer to.

Our questions to school foodservice directors are these: What is the most onerous part of the new healthy meals regulations? What changes are you having to make to your programs as a result of the new regs? And, if you have any advice for your fellow foodservice professionals as you all deal with this new era, what is it?

Share your answers with us, either as comments to this blog, in an email to me at pking@cspnet,.com, or on our Facebook page, and we’ll spread the word.

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