Nancy Rice, Director of School Nutrition Division for the Georgia Department of Education and School Nutrition Association president, talked to FSD about the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and what’s in store for child nutrition programs this year.
School meals already meet federal nutrition standards, but food sold in school vending machines, snack bars and à la carte lines often do not. Thanks to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, foods that are served and sold in competition with the healthier options available will meet certain nutrition requirements. Also, the standards governing school meals will be strengthened. Parents and students can rest assured that all foods and beverages sold on the school campus are healthy choices.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act provides schools with a much-needed additional 6 cents a meal but even this increase will not cover the cost of meeting the new standards for healthier school meals. The price of fresh produce, whole grains and low-fat dairy products—all critical components on school lunch trays—continues to rise.
SNA was proud to secure a number of priority provisions in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, including the creation of federal professional standards and certification for school foodservice professionals. The US Department of Agriculture has begun the arduous process of developing proposed regulations governing this provision and others, and SNA must ensure the concerns of school nutrition professionals are heard throughout the implementation process. SNA also will be working to support its members as they rise to the challenge of meeting the new nutrition standards established by the new law.
The rising costs of food, labor and supplies in contrast to limited funding for school meals will continue to remain a constant challenge for school nutrition programs. As Congress drafts the new farm bill, SNA will be seeking the inclusion of USDA Foods, formerly known as commodities, to be available for use in school breakfast programs, so that cash-strapped schools can offer healthier options and reach more children in need of the most important meal of the day. Given concerns about the budget deficits, this job will be more challenging than ever. Of course, interpreting and finding ways to meet the new nutrition standards for school meals on limited foodservice budgets will also be a challenge.
Healthier food choices continues to be the hottest trend. SNA’s Back to School Trends survey of school nutrition directors found that more than nine out of ten schools districts are increasing offerings of whole-grain products and fresh produce. Nearly 70% of districts are reducing or eliminating sodium in foods, and about two-thirds of districts are reducing or limiting added sugar. Meanwhile, more than half of school districts are offering more vegetarian choices in the lunch line.