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USDA to allow ‘flexibility’ on grains, meats in school meals

Reacting to complaints from members of Congress and some school food directors and students, the Agriculture Department has decided to allow schools to serve more grains and meat or meat alternatives and still be in compliance with the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act regulations, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has written to members of Congress today.

“We always anticipated that some modifications and other allowances would be required for changes of this size and scope,” Vilsack wrote in a letter to Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D. “USDA has asked for, and states and schools have provided us with, valuable feedback.”

“As a result, you should be pleased to know that we have recently moved to allow for additional flexibility in meeting some of the new standards,” Vilsack said.

“For example, the top operational challenge that states and schools have reported is in serving meals that fit within the weekly minimum and maximum serving ranges for the grains and meat/meat alternate portions of the standards. To help schools make a successful transition to the new requirements, we have provided additional flexibility in meeting the requirements for these components. If a school is meeting just the minimum serving requirements for these two food groups, they will be considered in compliance with that portion of the standards, regardless of whether they have exceeded the maximum.”

Vilsack added, “This flexibility is being provided to allow more time for the development of products that fit within the new standards while granting schools additional weekly menu planning options to help ensure that children receive a wholesome, nutritious meal every day of the week.”

He also hinted that there could be further changes coming.

“These actions are by no means exhaustive. Implementation is a process that takes time, and as the school year progresses we will continue listening and providing education, technical assistance ,and flexibilities where appropriate.”

The Hagstrom Report obtained a copy of the letter and a USDA source said that the letter had been sent today to Hoeven and to other members of Congress who had written to complain that the new standards are too strict. In the letter Vilsack noted that the regulations were written to try to address childhood obesity and promote good nutrition.