Superintendent Discusses Concerns About New USDA School Food Program Regulations with School Board
Superintendent W. Burke Royster recently discussed concerns about the new United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) School Food Program with the School Board. He noted the law is the most comprehensive change to America’s school food program in 15 years, and is designed to target the growing problem of childhood obesity.
Mr. Royster explained the most significant difference is the old USDA regulations set minimums for food offerings while the new regulations set maximums, resulting in smaller portion sizes. He noted the new guidelines do not allow for individual differences among students and do not consider the significant number of students for whom school lunch is their only “real meal” each day. Mr. Royster explained this “one size fits all approach to student nutrition” has led to more students bringing their own lunch, teachers allowing classroom snacks – even in the higher grades, and has resulted in a nationwide grassroots movement to repeal the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act
Mr. Royster noted another negative impact is that the regulations required the district to raise the price of full-pay meals by 10 cents, and the district must do so every year until our price equals the reimbursement price of a free meal. The current price is $2.10, so if the reimbursement price remains steady, the district will have to increase the meal price by 10 cents for at least the next seven years. He also reviewed the negative impact on available food products to meet the new guidelines. For example, in the past, fresh bread was delivered to schools twice per week, but the sub roll offered by local suppliers is over the grain limit, so instead of fresh bread we use frozen products.
Mr. Royster noted changes are needed to the USDA regulations and the Administration is in favor of changing the maximum limits to minimum requirements, particularly for grains and proteins, and providing more flexibility in the types of fruits and vegetables that are offered. The Administration would also like to set local meal prices, allow students to take multiple servings of fruits and vegetable or refuse service if they have no intention of eating the offered product, and would like more time to work with manufacturers to develop healthy products.