WASHINGTON — The US Dept. of Agriculture on Nov. 29 announced a new school meal flexibility rule making targeted changes to standards for meals provided under the USDA’s National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said the rule reflects the department’s commitment to work with program operators, school nutrition professionals, industry, and other stakeholders to develop strategies to ensure school nutrition standards are both healthful and practical.
“Schools need flexibility in menu planning so they can serve nutritious and appealing meals,” Perdue said. “Based on the feedback we’ve gotten from students, schools, and food service professionals in local schools across America, it’s clear that many still face challenges incorporating some of the meal pattern requirements. Schools want to offer food that students actually want to eat. It doesn’t do any good to serve nutritious meals if they wind up in the trash can. These flexibilities give schools the local control they need to provide nutritious meals that school children find appetizing.”
The interim final rule as published gives schools the option to serve low-fat (1 percent) flavored milk. Currently, schools are permitted to serve low-fat and non-fat unflavored milk as well as non-fat flavored milk. The rule also would provide this milk flexibility to the Special Milk Program and Child and Adult Care Food Program operators serving children ages six and older. States also will be allowed to grant exemptions to schools experiencing hardship in obtaining whole grain-rich products acceptable to students during the 2018-19 school year.
Perdue added schools and industry also need more time to reduce sodium levels in school meals, so instead of further restricting sodium levels for the 2018-2019 school year, schools that meet the current – “Target 1” – limit will be considered compliant with the USDA’s sodium requirements.
“We salute the efforts of America’s school food professionals,” Perdue said. “And we will continue to support them as they work to run successful school meals programs and feed our nation’s children.”