With possible implications for fruit and vegetable servings, the government is seeking public input on how certain foods are counted for nutrition standards in school lunches.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is inviting comments on what it called “food crediting,” the system that defines how each food item fits into a meal for the National School Lunch Program and other federal child nutrition programs.
One of the questions that the USDA is seeking input on is, “What are the benefits and negative impacts of having different crediting values for different forms of vegetables and fruits?”
According to a news release, the comments will help USDA officials understand “diverse perspectives” on the food and nutrition environment.
“Serving meals to kids that are wholesome, nutritious, and tasty is a top USDA priority, and we can best accomplish that goal by listening to the voices of our many stakeholders,” Brandon Lipps, acting Deputy Under Secretary of USDA’s Food Nutrition and Consumer Services, said in the release.
To receive federal reimbursement for food served through one of USDA’s child nutrition programs, schools must serve meals that meet specific meal pattern requirements.
The release said USDA is especially interested in understanding both the possible benefits and any negative impacts associated with possible changes to how certain foods may or may not credit.
Comments are due by Feb. 12, according to the USDA.
Mollie Van Lieu, senior director for nutrition policy at the United Fresh Produce Association, said the USDA indicates fruits and vegetables are one of its focus points.
“As of now, our ask would be to maintain the crediting as is, maintain the requirements to serve fruits and vegetables in the volume as it currently stands,” she said.
The USDA may consider changing how dehydrated vegetables or fruit fill the serving requirements, she said. Veggie chips also are mentioned in the document; currently veggie chips don’t count toward the vegetable credit, she said.
“To credit (a veggie chip) as a fruit or vegetable is probably getting away from the intent of the program,” she said.
In general, United Fresh believes the current USDA rules work well, Van Lieu said.
“I don’t think there is anything we would look to change, but we are certainly going to weigh in on maintaining the crediting as it is and ensuring the wide variety of fruits and vegetables continues,” she said.