Tom Stenzel, United Fresh Produce AssociationThe battle in Congress over rolling back school meals standards the past few weeks has been one of the most frustrating of my career.
At a time when fresh produce in school meals is on the rise, salad bars are becoming the norm for serving kids a wide variety of great tasting fresh produce, and new fresh fruit and vegetable snacks are arriving in schools, who would have thought that we’d be fighting to defend a half-cup serving of produce in school lunches?
When the House and Senate develop their Agricultural Appropriations bills each year, the debates usually have to do with funding levels for various programs.
But this year congressional members on the appropriations committees have tried to amend 2012 child nutrition standards for school meals, seeking to roll back provisions that require meals to contain at least one half-cup of produce.
The saddest part of this story is that the proponent of this rollback is the School Nutrition Association, our longtime friend and partner in serving school kids.
In frustration over some of the new rules under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act — which SNA actually endorsed — the association of school foodservice workers is now supporting a blanket waiver provision to allow schools to opt out of all standards.
While it was a reasonable goal to want flexibility in dealing with some of the technical difficulties relating to things such as sodium reduction and whole grain requirements, SNA inadvertently used a congressional sledgehammer instead of a scalpel.
In turn, this effort has unleashed a battle splitting school foodservice leaders from the national PTA; splitting school administrators from the public health community; and even threatening to split the SNA itself, as 20 past presidents of the association have opposed their own association and called for keeping the standards intact.
Hurt feelings and fractured friendships are growing — which I unfortunately know firsthand — but it’s all a huge distraction from what’s really important.
What’s really important is helping schools comply with the rules to serve half a cup of fruits and vegetables in ways that kids want to eat. That’s a goal we can accomplish working together, as more than 3,400 schools that have received salad bars from our Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools campaign can show.