USDA Secretary Perdue: “If Schools Are Closed, We Are Going to do Our Very Best to Make Sure Kids Are Fed”
Wednesday, March 11th, 2020
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue attended the School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) 48th Annual Legislative Action Conference where he participated in a fireside chat with SNA President Gay Anderson and SNA CEO Patricia Montague. The Secretary discussed USDA’s response to the Coronavirus as it relates to school meal programs and all of the positive changes USDA has made when it comes to providing greater flexibility in nutrition requirements for school meal programs in order to make food choices both healthful and appealing to students.
Secretary Perdue announced proactive flexibilities to allow meal service during school closures to minimize potential exposure to the coronavirus. You may click HERE to watch Secretary Perdue discuss the proactive flexibilities during today’s House Appropriations hearing. During an unexpected school closure, schools can leverage their participation in one of USDA’s summer meal programs to provide meals at no cost to students. Under normal circumstances, those meals must be served in a group setting. However, in a public health emergency, the law allows USDA the authority to waive the group setting meal requirement, which is vital during a social distancing situation.
In December 2018, Secretary Perdue empowered local schools with additional options to serve healthy and appealing meals. A final rule on school meal flexibilities, increased local flexibility in implementing school nutrition standards for milk, whole grains, and sodium. Secretary Perdue said the final rule will deliver on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) promise to develop forward-thinking strategies that ensure school nutrition standards are both healthful and practical. The actions benefit nearly 99,000 schools and institutions that feed 30 million children annually through USDA’s school meal programs. The rule:
Provides the option to offer flavored, low-fat milk to children participating in school meal programs, and to participants ages six and older in the Special Milk Program for Children (SMP) and the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP);
Requires half of the weekly grains in the school lunch and breakfast menu be whole grain-rich; and
Provides more time to reduce sodium levels in school meals.
Delivering on his promise to act on feedback from dietary professionals, Secretary Perdue announced two proposals in January 2020 that put local school and summer food service operators back in the driver’s seat of their programs, because they know their children best. The first proposed rule continues to ensure children receive wholesome, tasty meals that provide the nutrition they need to grow and thrive, while offering increased flexibilities for local school districts to serve children food they will want to eat, by:
Allowing local schools to offer more vegetable varieties, while keeping plenty of veggies in each meal;
Making it easier for schools to offer school lunch entrees for a la carte purchase, thereby reducing food waste;
Providing schools options to customize meal patterns to best serve children in different grades or smaller schools who eat together;
Supporting a more customized school breakfast environment by letting schools adjust fruit servings and making it simpler to offer meats/meat alternates, ultimately encouraging breakfast options outside the cafeteria so students can start their day with a healthy breakfast; and
Shifting to a performance-focused administrative review process that is less burdensome and time consuming, which would increase collaboration with operators to improve program integrity.
The second proposed rule makes customer-focused reforms to the Summer Food Service Program, which serves more than 2.6 million children during the summer months, when they are at higher risk of food insecurity and poor nutrition because they do not have access to school meals. The summer feeding rule offers operators more local control to better serve children by:
Providing more flexibilities in choosing meal offerings, meal service times, and allowing children to take certain nonperishable food items offsite;
Granting tested and proven flexibilities that make it easier for sponsors and sites to participate by reducing paperwork and streamlining the application process for high-performing, experienced operators;
Balancing program integrity and flexibility with stronger monitoring to help sponsors maximize their resources; and
Clarifying performance standards and eligibility requirements for sites.