Hoeven Introduces Legislation to Provide Permanent Flexibility for Sodium and Grain Requirements in School Meal Programs

School Nutrition Association Endorses The Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act

WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven announced today that he plans to introduce the Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act later this week or early next week. The legislation would provide permanent flexibility to school districts in complying with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new school nutrition requirements. The legislation specifically addresses sodium and whole grain requirements for school lunch and breakfast programs.

“Providing our students with healthy, nutritious and delicious meals is important,” said Hoeven. “The Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act ensures our schools are providing kids with good, nutritious meals but provides the flexibility they need to serve meals that are not only well-balanced but also appealing to students.”

The Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act 

  • Whole Grains: Since July of 2012, at least half of all grains offered with school meals have been whole grain rich. In July 2014, USDA required that 100 percent of all grains be whole-grain rich. The Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act restores the requirement back to 50 percent of total grains to ensure continued access to a wide variety of grain products. This will enable schools to serve items like biscuits, tortillas and pasta that students will eat. In December, Hoeven worked to include a provision in the Agriculture Appropriations bill that allows schools that establish a hardship from the 100 percent whole grain food requirement to serve meals with 50 percent whole grain rich foods. This legislation would provide permanent flexibility for all schools. 
  • Sodium: Prevents the Department of Agriculture from requiring further sodium reductions in school meals below the current Target 1 level, which became effective in July 2014. If additional sodium reductions are implemented, schools would have a difficult time meeting targets when serving healthy foods with naturally occurring sodium, including milk, cheese and meat. For example, schools would be unable to serve healthy choices like low-fat, whole grain cheese pizza, many Asian dishes and deli sandwiches.

The Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act is endorsed by the School Nutrition Association (SNA), a national, nonprofit professional organization that represents more than 55,000 school nutrition professionals across the country.

“The School Nutrition Association strongly supports the Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act,” said SNA President Julia Bauscher, SNS. “School nutrition professionals are committed to serving healthy meals, but minor adjustments to the most extreme restrictions under the new rules will help struggling schools bring students back to the cafeteria. Too many students have swapped school lunch for unhealthy alternatives, which defeats the goal of the standards and reduces revenue to invest in healthy, appealing menus. Under Senator Hoeven’s bill, all schools will continue to serve nutritious meals that meet current sodium reductions and offer a wide variety of whole grains. Senator Hoeven should be commended for responding to the concerns of students, families and school nutrition professionals in his state and nationwide.”

“We appreciate the support of the School Nutrition Association in endorsing this common sense approach to providing our students with healthy and quality meals,” said Hoeven.

In the last Congress, Hoeven worked to provide schools with greater flexibility to meet the nutritional needs of all students, after hearing from North Dakota students who were left feeling hungry due to new, strict school nutrition standards enacted at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year. The rule attempted to curb obesity by strictly limiting calories, protein and grains for all students without any flexibility to meet the needs of athletes or others whose dietary needs do not fit the guidelines. 

In December 2012, USDA made temporary changes to the School Lunch Program in response to a bipartisan letter led by Hoeven. USDA temporarily lifted its strict limit on grains and starches as well as protein to give schools more flexibility. The upper cap on total calories remains in place; however, the modification was provided only through the 2013-2014 school year.

Hoeven then authored bipartisan legislation, the Sensible School Lunch Act, to make the changes permanent. The legislation garnered broad, bipartisan support and the backing of the national School Nutrition Association. In response to the legislation, which was on track to pass, the USDA administratively made the changes permanent in 2014. 


EDITORS NOTE: The legislation will be introduced later this week or early next week.