Reflections from LAC: Operators express frustration to USDA officials

Reactions to new meal pattern contain postives and negatives.

Yesterday I was in Washington, D.C., at the School Nutrition Association’s LAC conference. I’ve been talking to operators about the new meal regs, both proposed and final, for more than a year now. Public opinion seems to flow in cycles. When the proposed regulations came out, general opinion seemed to be negative. It could have been that directors felt the burden of the rules would be too great or costly. Some expressed frustration over what they thought was a lack of input in the rules. When the final rules came out in January, there seemed to be a shift. Most of the directors I talked to said they were already well on their way to meeting all the requirements. Most seemed optimistic. Yes, there was still some frustration, but it seemed like having that time to digest the proposed rules made directors a little less hostile to the requirements.

So when I came into LAC’s general session this morning I thought the upbeat mindset would be there; but I was wrong. After an overview of the new meal requirements, the session was opened up to questions and comments. Most of the people who spoke during the comments period seemed frustrated, and they directed that frustration onto the USDA officials present, Janey Thornton, USDA under secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, and Cindy Long, director, Child Nutrition Division, USDA.

Here are some of the comments:

  • Several directors from California expressed concern over food-based menu planning. The directors would like for the state’s SHAPE nutrient analysis to be allowed.
  • Smoothies: If one cup of fruit is blended with one cup of low-fat yogurt, that blended item can not be used as components that meet the new meal pattern regulations. So the fruit in that smoothie can not be counted as the fruit component. This is because the fruit is no longer recognizable as a fruit when it is blended. Long said the goal behind the new meal pattern regs is to teach students what real foods look like.
  • One director asked why there wasn’t an exception for naturally occurring sodium like there is for naturally occurring trans fat. The USDA’s response to that was that the sodium ranges included in the regs takes into account all sodium served, even naturally occurring sodium.
  • Whole grains: If an item has water as the first listed ingredient and whole grain as second, that item is counted as a whole grain-rich item.

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