The proposed rule also calls for strict limits on sodium, requiring schools to cut sodium in lunches by more than 50 percent within 10 years. SNA agrees with the need to reduce sodium but warns that many schools will struggle to meet all the sodium targets, given the limited availability of low sodium pre-prepared foods and the reliance on canned items for schools located in geographic areas that have limited access to fresh produce. With these concerns in mind, SNA recommends that USDA make an allowance for naturally occurring sodium found in foods like milk and meat.
Product availability is also a concern when it comes to the proposed rule’s whole grain requirement. SNA points out that “Some regions have little or no supply of whole grain products at the present time, and may have to secure new suppliers.” As such, the Association recommends that implementation of the whole grain requirement be delayed until school year 2013 to 2014.
School nutrition professionals are also worried about how these changes will impact student participation in school meal programs. SNA has asked USDA to monitor changes in participation rates, increases in plate waste and to look at whether students have adequate time, given shortened breakfast and lunch periods, to eat larger servings of fresh produce.
SNA’s comments were developed by an 11 member task force assigned to collect and synthesize input from the non-profit professional organization’s 53,000 members nationwide who plan, prepare and serve school meals in all 50 states.
The proposed rule, released in January, is open for public comment until April 13, 2011. USDA is expected to release the final regulations at the start of 2012.