The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new breakfast meal regulations, introduced this fall, have been implemented more easily than were the school lunch standards last year, school foodservice directors say. But that doesn’t mean that operators don’t have concerns, both for now and in 2014-2015.
“It's been going well,” says Amy Glodde, menu planner for the Oakland Unified School District, in California. “We had some pushback from parents at an elementary site. This particular site is in transition and is currently implementing a grab and go menu. It's a K-12 menu and the parents did not understand why their elementary aged children were getting the same amount of calories that a higher schooler would receive. After a little explaining about the new regulations the situation was worked out, but we haven't had any large issues to deal with.”
Among the changes for school breakfast this year, schools must offer ½ cup of fruit every day, and milk and grains must be offered daily. In addition, the amount of grains to be offered at each grade level have been increased, and half of the grain products must be whole-grain rich. Next year, the amount of fruit offered will increase to 1 cup per day, and all of the grain products offered must be whole-grain rich.
Leah Schmidt, foodservice director for Hickman Mills C-1 School District, in Kansas City, Mo., and current president of the School Nutrition Association, says that the organization hasn’t heard many comments from foodservice directors about the new regulations. Her reasoning? A large number of districts have only begun to work in the new standards. Also, “breakfast isn’t the big ticket item that lunch is,” she says.
“In our districts, I think the fact that we had started to implement the rules early made everything run more smoothly, and that’s probably true of most districts that were proactive,” Schmidt says. “But there isn’t the additional money from USDA that we got for lunch”—six cents more per lunch was allocated to enact the new requirements—“so that’s weighing on some districts.
There is also some concern about the added fruit component next year and the extra cost of that.”
Doug Davis, foodservice director for Burlington School District, in Vermont, put a slightly different spin on the new fruit requirement for 2014. He worries about supply.
“I’m not sure if this is a concern yet, but it might be,” Davis says. “We have to consider the actual supply of fruit. In Burlington, we will be adding dozens of cases of fruit per week to our orders, and we’ve only got 4,000 students. We’re talking about 35 million breakfasts nationwide. An unintended consequence could be, will we have enough fruit to give them?”
Davis notes, for example, that the apple crop in the Northeast in 2012 had a down year. He says that shortages like this could exacerbate the problem. He also notes that other variables exist, such as the availability of fruit in months outside of the growing season in places like New England.
On the flip side, he sees no problem satisfying the whole-grain-rich requirement next year. “Our experience in the Northeast has been that a wide variety of whole-grain products have been readily available,” he says.
Roxanne Moore, national director of wellness for Sodexo Education-Schools, believes that giving students choices will be key to making the new regulations, both for breakfast and lunch, stick. She says that, thus far, the breakfast requirements have been “easy to implement.” She thinks that giving students the idea that they are in control will help keep the programs moving forward.
“A lot of it is education, providing taste tests and piquing the interest of students about food,” Moore says. She adds that, to help facilitate the concept of students “owning the decision-making process,” all Sodexo school accounts have committed to the Smarter Lunchroom Movement (SLM), a program begun four years ago by the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Program. The program is designed to study the way children choose the foods they eat and to help guide them in making healthier choices.
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, the SLM advocates choice. “If you offer students two or three fruit choices instead of just one, if students feel like they have a choice, they are more likely to eat it,” Moore says. “If they feel forced to take something they are less likely to consume it.”