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.
• One attendee said it wasn’t as easy as had been suggested by USDA ofﬁcials to train cashiers as to what constitutes an acceptable portion size of a fruit or veggie on a self-service salad bar.
• Another director asked for clariﬁcation on the requirements that calls for an average taken during the course of a ﬁve-day week. Some school weeks are not ﬁve days, so she asked how she should proceed. USDA ofﬁcials told the director that guidance on that was forthcoming, but that for a general principle, if a week is four days instead of ﬁve, that one-ﬁfth of the week’s total should be eliminated from the total to get the amount for the shortened week.
The second general session seemed to take another shift. Operators, having had a chance to voice their frustrations to USDA ofﬁcials, changed to praising the agency for all its efforts. Tony Geraci, executive director of foodservice, Memphis City Schools in Tennessee, said that the USDA has done more in the past four years to help the school nutrition industry than in the last 20 years. This sentiment was echoed by several other commenters.
Other tidbits from LAC:
• The HealthierUS School Challenge has been changed. Breakfast is now a part of the challenge. After July 1, there will be new criteria for the program. Districts will have 22 different options, ranging from nutrition education, physical activity, and school and community involvement in wellness efforts, that they must select from and complete to become certified under the program. In addition, average daily participation will now be calculated based on attendance and not enrollment.
• The professional standards as mandated under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is a major goal to be completed by this year, according to Thornton.
• Thornton said the 6-cent rule is currently in the Ofﬁce of Management and Budget, so she was unable to comment on that. She hopes that rule will be addressed in greater detail soon.
• SNA’s 2012 Legislative Issue Paper calls for Congress to act on the following points: the increase in the amount of unpaid meal balances; the cost of collecting and verifying income data that is then used by other agencies for non-meal purposes; adding 10 cents per breakfast in USDA commodities; giving the USDA secretary the ability to develop a standard contract that districts may use between local school districts and foodservice management companies; and require the USDA secretary to determine which indirect costs incurred by a school district that can be charged to school foodservice accounts.