School nutrition leaders look for solutions

07/14/2014 10:13:00 AM
Tom Karst

A meeting this summer could help to avoid a food fight in the school cafeteria this fall.

In a gathering described as solutions-oriented, United Fresh Produce Association officials, including chairman Ron Carkoski, took part in a July 10 roundtable discussion with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, officials from the School Nutrition Association, Let’s Move! Executive Director Sam Kass and numerous other child nutrition advocates.

Carkoski, chairman of United Fresh and president and CEO of Four Seasons Family of Cos., Ephrata, Pa., said the meeting was respectful of all perspectives about federal school lunch standards and focused in improving child nutrition outcomes.

“United, as a association, is there to help provide the education and help provide the solutions through the supply side to the School Nutrition Association to help them be effective in getting this accomplished,” he said.

National Harbor, Md.-based School Nutrition Association said Vilsack and other child nutrition stakeholders pledged support of SNA goals to provide healthy, balanced meals and snacks to students and recognized practical implementation challenges that need to be addressed.

Wendy Weyer, director of nutrition services for the Seattle Public Schools, and the School Nutrition Association’s representative at the meeting, said the meeting was a step in the right direction.

She said SNA members have already worked to implement dozens of new regulations, but many are struggling and will be unable to meet new standards this fall while remaining financially solvent.

“We welcome continued conversation, recognition of the challenges and support for flexibility as we all work to avoid further loss of student participation and revenue,” she said in the release.

The roundtable discussion was attended by representatives from 16 organizations, Let’s Move! executive director Sam Kass and USDA officials.

While United Fresh and other voices have defended the new federal guidelines, the School Nutrition Association has criticized some aspects of the standards, including the requirement that schools serve a half cup of fruits or vegetables at every reimbursable school lunch.

In regulations introduced in 2012, cafeterias have been offering more whole grains, fruits and vegetables and limiting the calories and unhealthy fats in school meals. Starting July 1 this year school cafeterias must also meet new limits on sodium, ensure all grains are whole grain rich, double the amount of fruits or vegetables offered at breakfast and ensure students take half a cup of produce with every meal.

The meeting about school meals came just before the start of the July 13-16 School Nutrition Association’s Annual National Conference, a meeting that United Fresh and other fresh produce marketers will attend.



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