School Nutrition Association Endorses Hoeven-Pryor Bipartisan Sensible School Lunch Act

Senators, SNA Propose Permanent Change

WASHINGTON – Senators John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and a bipartisan group of senators today were joined by senior officials of the School Nutrition Association (SNA), which earlier this week endorsed the senators’ Sensible School Lunch Act. The new legislation will provide school districts with greater flexibility in implementing new rules for the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program to accommodate the differing nutritional needs of students.

Participating in the news conference in support of the Hoeven-Pryor measure were SNA President Sandra Ford, SNA President-Elect Leah Schmidt, SNA Vice President Patricia Bauscher and SNA Acting CEO Patricia Montague.

Cosponsoring the bill with Hoeven and Pryor are Senators John Thune (R-S.D.), Jerry Moran (R-Kans.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Pat Roberts (R-Kans.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Daniel Coats (R-Ind.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.).

Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its final rule for the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which requires new standards for school meals, effective at the start of the current school year. The final rule attempted to curb obesity among youth 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. Additionally, complying with the rule exceeded federal funding by at least a projected $75 million a year, according to the USDA, placing greater strain on school budgets.

The new regulation produced a wave of concern by parents, students and administrators reacting to the expense of the program, and the lack of flexibility for those students who have nutritional needs that exceed the strict calorie, protein and grains restrictions.

While the USDA should be commended for attempting to implement a science-based approach to its nutrition recommendations, the lack of any flexibility for those students with special nutritional needs poses a problem. For example, the USDA categorizes students into broad grade brackets for the purpose of nutritional needs, but according to their strict rule, a 13-year-old eighth grader may eat no more protein than a five-year-old kindergartener, and a 13 year old may eat only one more ounce of grain than a kindergartner. Similarly, an active 18 year-old high school senior playing football would get no more proteins or grains than a less active 14-year-old ninth grader.

In December 2012, after hearing from Hoeven, Pryor and a bipartisan group of concerned senators, USDA retracted its strict limits on proteins and grains to give schools more flexibility, while keeping in place the upper cap on total calories. This improvement to the regulation has been received with resounding support by school administrators, school food service directors, parents and students. Unfortunately, the USDA granted this relief only through spring 2013, and extended it recently through the spring of 2014.

Senators Hoeven, Pryor and the School Nutrition Association, however, believe that a permanent solution for schools is needed, instead of a piecemeal, year-by-year approach. The Hoeven-Pryor bill would make USDA’s temporary modification to the school meals regulation permanent by lifting the cap on proteins and grains, so students and schools have more flexibility to serve a range of students as they comply with the new nutrition standards.

Specifically, the senators’ legislation would allow more flexible portions of proteins and grains in the federal school meals program, while leaving in place the rest of the regulation, including the total calorie cap and its emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and non-fat dairy selections. Professional school nutritionists and food preparers welcome the bill because it gives them flexibility to meet the needs of all students, rather than applying a one-size-fits-all rule. At the same time, the total calorie cap remains in place to ensure healthy meals in proportion, and allowable fruits are increased as compared to before, and vegetable servings are unlimited.

“We welcome the support of the School Nutrition Association, the professionals in the field who actually have to implement the federal rules every day,” Hoeven said. “Our new legislation will give food preparers at our schools the flexibility to provide nutritious, satisfying meals for growing youngsters, and at the same time, address such important issues as childhood obesity and poor nutrition. This bill just applies common sense to the rules and makes sure that they’re both effective and reasonable.”

“I’m pleased the USDA has given school districts greater flexibility in implementing new nutritional standards, but I want the changes to be permanent,” Pryor said. “That’s why I’ve teamed up with Senator Hoeven on this bipartisan bill that will give school food authorities the permanent flexibility they need to ensure Arkansas students receive nutritious, well-balanced meals at school.”

“The weekly limits on grains and proteins served with school meals had the unintended consequence of restricting healthy menu items like daily sandwich choices and salads topped with chicken and low-fat cheese,” said Sandra Ford, SNS, School Nutrition Association President and Director, Food and Nutrition, Manatee County School District, FL. “Under the bipartisan Sensible School Lunch Act, school meals would continue to meet calorie limits and include plenty of fruits and vegetables, but cafeterias will have flexibility to plan menus that meet student tastes and nutrition standards.”

“Though we must do what we can to curb childhood obesity and poor nutrition, we also must ensure that schools have the necessary flexibility to meet the different needs of their students,” Senator Landrieu said. “Many children, especially those who qualify for free and reduced lunch, rely on the meals they receive at school to keep them satisfied and healthy. A one-size-fits-all regulation is not sufficient, so I am very pleased to support the Sensible School Lunch Act which, if enacted, will make permanent the flexibility our school officials need to ensure all of our students are properly nourished.”

“The restrictive USDA regulations fail to consider the varying and unique nutritional needs of individual students, such as a highly-active athlete or a lower-income child that may not be receiving meals outside of school. I have heard from administrators and parents across Oklahoma about the difficulties complying with the new USDA guidelines, and I am pleased to be joining Sens. Hoeven and Pryor in this common-sense solution to empower schools with flexibility to better address the health of their students," said Senator Inhofe.

“Growing up my mom was a school cook, I remember hearing firsthand about the challenges schools face when trying to provide well balanced meals to students,” said Senator Heitkamp. “North Dakota schools shouldn’t have to choose between adhering to grain and protein limits and producing school lunches that provide enough nutrition to sustain kids throughout the day. By removing the maximum limitations on meat and breads, we give flexibility back our schools to provide healthy, fulfilling meals to students.”

Sensible School Lunch Act