USDA Foods in Schools (USDA Foods) fruit and vegetable purchases rose sharply after the implementation of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) in 2012, according to a new report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The report compared food choices in the USDA Foods program from 2006 to 2017. It found that the amount of fresh produce distributed through the USDA Department of Defense (DoD) Fresh program increased after the HHFKA, jumping from 6% of total items distributed in 2012 to 15% of commodity purchases made in 2017.
In addition, fruit (mostly canned or frozen) obtained by schools using USDA entitlement funds rose from 9% of total USDA Foods distributed in 2012 to 15% in 2017.
Cheese, poultry and red meat obtained with USDA entitlement funds, however, dropped over the years. From 2012 to 2017, between 60% to 70% of USDA Foods entitlement funds were used on cheese, poultry and red meat. But from 2006 to 2011, these products had made up as much as 75% of total USDA commodity purchases.
A study released last year by the USDA also showed that the enactment of the HHFKA led school meals to contain more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and less sodium and empty calories.
While school meals have become healthier due to HHFKA, school nutrition operators have sometimes struggled with meeting the stricter nutrition requirements, especially when it comes to sodium and whole grains. Procurement challenges due to the pandemic have also made it hard to meet nutrition standards.
In a survey released by the School Nutrition Association late last year, over 96% of respondents said they're having challenges with suppliers not carrying enough product needed to meet school meal regulations.