Weekly limits on grains and proteins served with school meals have been permanently eliminated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The removal of the limits, imposed with the updated school nutrition standards implemented by the USDA in July 2012, was applauded by the National Harbor, Md.-based School Nutrition Association. The USDA had temporarily lifted the weekly limits in the 2013-14 school year.
“School Nutrition Association members are pleased that USDA has provided this permanent fix, acknowledging the need for greater flexibility in planning well-balanced school meals,” SNA president Leah Schmidt said in a news release. “With school nutrition professionals already planning menus and inventory for the 2014-15 school year, eliminating the grain and protein limits is a key step to providing healthy menus that appeal to students.”
Before the change in USDA requirements, many schools could not offer daily sandwich choices because serving two slices of whole-grain bread each day exceeded limits, according to the SNA, and salads topped with grilled chicken and low-fat cheese surpassed weekly protein limits.
Tracy Fox, president of Washington, D.C.-based Food, Nutrition & Policy Consultants, said the USDA move was expected.
“They are being responsive to what they heard from school nutrition folks,” she said.
Fox said there may be more efforts to change school nutrition standards significantly, particularly related to calorie ranges for school meals and implementation of the breakfast program. Those efforts may heat up when child nutrition legislation is reauthorized in 2015.
“I would expect those who would look at (reauthorization) as an opportunity to open back up the regs, but I can tell you there will be others who are not at all interested in doing that and want to move forward with the progress that was made with the regulations instead of go back in time,” she said.
From what she has heard, Fox said updated requirements for fruits and vegetables in school meals have not been directly opposed. Still, she said critics might link fruit and vegetables serving mandates to insufficient reimbursement rates for school meals.