Janey Thornton 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Ingredients for Change New funding available for schools to improve meals to children. In late April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) published an interim rule authorizing state agencies to certify school food authorities (SFAs) compliant with new meal pattern and nutrition standards as being eligible to receive performance-based cash assistance for each reimbursable lunch served (an additional 6 cents per lunch, available beginning October 1, 2012 and adjusted annually thereafter). The interim rule defines performance-based certification requirements, state agency certification responsibilities, required documentation and timeframes, validation reviews, 2012-13 monitoring adjustments, reporting and record keeping, technical assistance and more. The interim rule is effective July 1, 2012; comments regarding the rule provisions will be accepted up until July 26, 2012. In reflection of the new guidance, Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Deputy Undersecretary Janey Thornton, PhD, SNS, offers thoughts on the new opportunities ahead for school nutrition professionals and reinforces USDA’s ongoing commitment to assist SFAs in meeting shared goals. With the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, all those working to improve children’s diets gained a new “cookbook” of strategies to improve school meals. A few weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a key provision in the Act: final incentives to improve school meals. School food authorities that meet the new meal requirements will be reimbursed an additional 6 cents per lunch served. This landmark provision of the Act is the first real increase in the school lunch reimbursement in decades. There have been many voices calling for healthier school meals—on television, in newspapers, around the water cooler—but the bold and innovative actions taken by First Lady Michelle Obama and her Let’s Move! initiative are leading our nation’s schools and the school nutrition professionals who transform limited budgets into tasty, nutritious and fresh meals for students. The goal of this initiative: to solve the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation. A History of Healthy Commitment School meal programs—which represent a partnership among local schools, state agencies and USDA—have long been on the forefront of better nutrition for our children. Over the past two decades, USDA has reduced the fat, salt and sugar in the government- procured foods provided to students who participate in school meal programs. Today, USDA and its partners at the state and local level ensure that schools offer a more comprehensive and diverse menu reflecting the latest in nutrition science, specifically the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the new MyPlate recommendations. Improvements to school menus under the new standards will mean giving students increased access to fruits, vegetables and whole grains, already being delivered in many districts across the country. Such new menu items have been generated by market availability and nutritional quality—and by student demand and input. For instance, following the success of a school pilot program that featured whole-grain pancakes and whole-grain tortillas, the USDA Foods program has offered those items to all states since 2010. We have reduced sodium in all canned beans and vegetables that USDA provides to schools to less than 140 milligrams per serving. This meets the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s low-sodium labeling standard. We also reduced the amount of added sugar included in canned and frozen fruits. USDA canned fruits are packed in extra-light syrup, which has 35% less sugar than the “light” variety. USDA does not use heavy syrup in any of its canned fruit offerings. The results of these improvements are fruit and vegetable choices that are healthier—and more economical—options. Through an ongoing relationship with the U.S. Department of Defense and its logistics and transportation experts, USDA has kept pace with an increased demand for a greater variety of fresh fruits and vegetables by offering such popular choices as apples, oranges, pears, raspberries and strawberries, sweet potatoes, carrots and corn-on-the-cob. USDA’s Farm to School program also is expanding and will help encourage greater opportunities for locally sourced foods. The implementation of the 6-cent rule will support schools’ efforts to meet the new meal standards by continually incorporating improved food offerings. The new standards align school meals with the latest nutrition science, and these responsible reforms do what is right for children’s health in a practical and achievable way. Record of Success Every day, school nutrition professionals push the envelope and continue to achieve remarkable results with limited resources. Since the HealthierUS School Challenge program was launched in 2004, for instance, schools have distinguished themselves as leaders in a mission to help kids lead healthier lives. Among just a handful of examples, schools have taste-tested wholewheat baked goods to get kids excited for new bread options, hosted local lunch days featuring community-sourced ingredients and integrated nutrition education throughout the school campus. As school nutrition professionals continue to develop ways to serve healthy and tasty food to the 32 million children that rely on school meals daily, we at USDA will continue to provide the quality ingredients and support that serve as the building blocks for a healthier and more productive future. The appetite for change is here. Together, we can satisfy it. Janey Thornton is deputy undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and served as SNA president in 2006-07. USDA Issues Guidance on Whole Grain Requirements In addition to the interim rule on performance-based cash assistance, the U.S. Department of Agriculture also issued a new policy memo providing guidance regarding the whole-grain requirements of the new meal pattern, which becomes effective on July 1, 2012. Among other details, the memo clarifies that program operators are allowed to credit grain products based on the current 14.75 grams of grains per serving through SY 2012-13. But all grain products must be credited based on the new standards beginning on July 1, 2013. The complete memo can be found at www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/Governance/Policy-Memos/2012/SP30-2012os.pdf.
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