Additional Flexibility to School Divisions as USDA Publishes Final Rule on School Meals

January 9, 2019

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently published a final rule on school meal flexibilities for implementing nutrition standards for milk, whole grains, and sodium. The final rule was made in response to 2012 changes to the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) meal requirements, which reflected updates to dietary guidelines. Though not an issue for some program operators, others have shared challenges implementing the new requirements that included decreased student meal consumption, difficulties preparing certain food items, and limited ability to offer appealing meals.

School divisions that participate in programs administered by the Food and Nutrition Service of USDA receive reimbursement and donated commodity assistance from USDA for meals served. In return, USDA requires that meals served meet Federal nutrition requirements and that free and reduced-price meals be made available to children from families with incomes at certain percentages below the poverty level.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue acknowledged the need for local flexibility to overcome challenges faced by some program providers while still maintaining the need to provide nutritious and appealing meals to students in a May 2017 proclamation. The rule has the potential to impact at last 99,000 schools and institutions serving 30 million children.

The final rule:

  • Provides NSLP and SBP operators the option to offer flavored low-fat (1 percent fat) milk with meals, and to participants ages six and older in the Special Milk Program for Children (SMP) and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP);
  • Requires half of the weekly grains in the school lunch and breakfast menu be whole grain-rich; and
  • Provides more time to reduce sodium levels in school meals.

Provisions of the final rule are scheduled to take effect February 11, 2019.

VACo Contact: Jeremy R. Bennett

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