Professional Nutritionists, Schoolboards Voice Strong Support for Hoeven's Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act

WASHINGTON – In response to a recent Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, the National School Board Association and the School Nutrition Association (SNA) issued strong endorsements of Senator John Hoeven’s Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act. Both groups voiced strong support in social media and news releases commending the measure and calling for passage:

“The National School Boards Association (NSBA) supports the Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act, which restores local leadership and flexibility to federal school meal policies so that schools can provide healthy school food options that students will actually eat,” the group said in a news release.

“Senators Hoeven and King should be commended for working to ensure schools have the ability to prepare healthy meals that appeal to all our students,” said School Nutrition Association CEO Patricia Montague, CAE.

Earlier this month, Hoeven introduced The Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act with Senator Angus King (I-Maine). The legislation specifically addresses sodium and whole grain requirements for school lunch and breakfast programs, providing school districts the flexibility they need to provide healthy food options that appeal to students without burdening the schools’ budgets. The legislation does not change any other current requirements for calories, fruits or vegetables.

“Our schools are working hard to provide our children with good, nutritious meals that are both healthy and appealing,” Hoeven said. “This hearing made clear the need for flexibility in pursuing this goal. Many schools continue to struggle due to increased costs, the lack of products that meet the standards, students not participating in meal programs and students wasting food. The Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act helps our schools overcome these challenges while still providing healthy, delicious meal options 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 USDA 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.

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.