State school lunch delegation brings concerns to D.C.

Published 8:37 am Wednesday, March 11, 2015

School Nutrition Association of Louisiana Public Policy and Legislative Chair Joannie Miller of Bogalusa just returned from Washington, D.C., where she and her team of five visited the offices of all eight Louisiana congressman to request the reauthorization of the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act 2015/Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act during the SNA Legislative Action Conference.

This is the third straight year that Miller attended the conference on behalf of the SNAL Executive Board. Her team was picked up on local news stations touting their good works on behalf of the students.

Nearly 1,000 SNA members were on Capitol Hill this past week to request legislation that reduces federal mandates on the school meal standards, including the more stringent whole grain requirements that went into effect in July 2014 and the Target 2 and 3 sodium requirements set to be implemented in the coming years.

Currently, school meal standards create a one-size-fits-all model that doesn’t work for all kids and also places costly and senseless burdens on school districts — especially smaller and rural school districts.

“It is our goal for kids to be healthier, but we need to give our schools the flexibility at the local level to ensure the standards work for the students it is intended to serve,” Miller said. “As a child nutrition professional, I want to be sure the school meal program our students participate in is rooted in science-based nutrition and includes food that they will actually eat. After all, students don’t benefit from nutrients if they are left on the plate or they go in the garbage can.”

Miller said the Institute of Medicine warned “reducing the sodium content of school meals as specified will present major challenges and may not be possible.” Targets 2 and 3 cannot be met with diets that are otherwise nutritionally adequate.

SNA Members do not advocate rolling back the meal pattern with regard to fruits and vegetables, but when paid students with resources and discretion are abandoning the program, this then poses the problem of a stigma for free and reduced-priced meal students. The combination of 100 percent whole grain and the low sodium has negatively impacted the appeal of school meals.

“It is essential that students get nutritious and filling meals while at school, but new standards have gone too far, resulting in many students choosing unhealthy alternatives outside the school meals program,” Miller said. “The new legislation poses many challenges the schools will face in serving healthy and appetizing options to students under these new requirements. We want nutrition to remain a priority, but in a way that’s going to work in the real world.”

The 2015 Position Paper outlined for the Louisiana congressman is below:

• Increase the per meal reimbursement for school breakfast and lunch by 35 cents;

• Maintain Target 1 sodium level reductions and suspend further implementation of Targets 2 and 3;

• Allow School Food Authorities to decide if students are required to take a fruit and/or vegetable as part of a reimbursable meal. A variety is offered, but do not force the student to take it;

• Restore the initial requirement of half the grains offered be whole grain rich vs. 100 percent;

• Allow all food items that are a part of a reimbursable meal to be sold at any time as a la carte;

• Modify Section 205, Paid Lunch Equity, by exempting SFAs with a positive fund balance;

• Provide program simplification.