Hoeven: USDA Provides Flexibility in School Meal Programs

Senator Has Led Efforts to Ensure Schools Can Offer Nutritious Meals While Still Meeting Their Budgets

WASHINGTON – Senator John Hoeven today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued an interim final rule that provides regulatory relief under the agency’s Child Nutrition Programs. As chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee and a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Hoeven secured a commitment from USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue during his confirmation process to work with the senator, school nutrition professionals and school districts to ease the regulations. Further, the senator successfully included language in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 funding agreement that provides schools with greater flexibility in meeting the whole grains, milk and sodium requirements. Today’s announcement comes as part of Hoeven’s ongoing efforts to ensure schools can both meet their budgets and serve nutritious meals. 

“School nutrition professionals work every day to provide healthy meal options to our children,” said Hoeven. “School budgets and product availability place real constraints on their efforts, which is why we’ve worked to provide relief from these one-size-fits-all regulations. I appreciate Secretary Perdue for following through on his commitment to find a workable path forward for our schools to continue providing nutritious meals that students will actually eat.”  

Specifically, today’s interim final rule would be in effect for the 2018-2019 school year and addresses requirements for:

  • WHOLE GRAINS: Under current regulations, all grains offered with school meals must be whole grain rich – down to the croutons on the fresh salad bar. While schools have been able to apply for waivers, Hoeven has worked to address concerns with the waiver application and provide longer-term flexibility. This rule allows state agencies to grant exemptions to the whole grain requirements, allowing schools to serve enriched grain products and providing relief for those struggling with product availability or facing unreasonable cost increases due to the requirements.
  • SODIUM: Schools have made great strides in reducing sodium to meet Target 1 sodium levels. However, school nutrition professionals have warned that lower sodium targets will push many healthy options, like low-fat deli sandwiches, soups and salads off the menu, due in part to naturally occurring sodium in foods. In recognition of this, the rule allows schools to remain at Target 1 sodium levels through the 2018-2019 school year, giving schools and children additional time to adjust to sodium reduction efforts.
  • MILK: The rule gives schools the option to serve flavored low-fat milk, in addition to the currently allowed unflavored non-fat and low-fat milk and flavored non-fat milk.