Project Bread commends this month’s announcement from the USDA proposing long-term updates to school nutrition standards based on the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) and feedback from relevant stakeholders across the country, including Project Bread.
Initially, the COVID-19 pandemic paused further movement toward DGA-aligned school meal standards stemming from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Since then, USDA has been working with schools to move toward long-term nutrition updates while recognizing the tremendous pressure school nutrition professionals still face to provide healthy school meals to students amidst continuing supply chain and staffing challenges.
As a statewide anti-hunger organization with more than 25 years of experience working to boost the participation, quality, and nutrition of school meals as a strategy to solve childhood hunger, we know that dietary behaviors established in childhood have a significant impact on an individual’s lifelong health. This is why Project Bread submitted comments in March 2022 on USDA’s transitional school nutrition standards release.
While Friday’s announced proposal did not include all of our recommendations, we are encouraged by USDA’s continued commitment to ensuring that children have access to healthy meals at school.
“We see school nutrition staff working hard every day to provide nutritious and delicious food for all students, thinking creatively and using the ingredients they have to prepare nourishing meals,” shares Sam Icklan, Director of Community Nutrition Services at Project Bread. “Part of that work is ensuring that meals are meeting USDA standards, and we’re proud to see how USDA is seeking to adapt to meet the needs of children who rely on school meals for their daily nutrition. These changes will be beneficial to school communities across Massachusetts and nationwide.”
USDA’s proposed long-term school nutrition standard updates, which are be accompanied by a 60-day public comment period ending April 10, 2023 and are designed to be implemented in phases, include:
Project Bread applauds USDA for their commitment to improving child nutrition here in the Commonwealth and across the country. We are encouraged by the proposed limits on added sugars, whole grains, and sodium, and we hope that USDA will examine non-dairy milk alternatives and non-milk beverage options in future recommendations as we work to make school meals culturally responsive to all students.
Through our work with school nutrition professionals in helping them produce meals from scratch that meet the improved standards, maintain labor costs, and decrease plate waste, we know that our schools are doing heroic work to ensure that children have access to healthy, delicious meals, and they need to be provided with the necessary resources and technical assistance to continue to make this happen.
Kristin Thibedau, head cook and manager at JFK Middle School in Northampton, shares how her team thoughtfully develops their school menu each year: “When we wanted to try out a new recipe with beef sliders with a special sauce, we worked closely with Project Bread Chefs to bring the recipe from an idea to the school menu. It’s essential that we think through how to scale the recipe size, test with nutrition staff, source USDA ingredients and evaluate nutritional content and meal crediting information, and of course, taste test with our students. For our beef slider recipe, we received fantastic feedback from the students last fall, and we were able to add it to our menu starting in December, a nutritious meal meeting all the health standards and a new favorite for JFK students!”
We look forward to continuing to share our expertise with USDA regarding child nutrition as they work to issue a final rule in time for schools to plan for the 2024-25 school year. Project Bread will continue to advocate through our work leading the Feed Kids Coalition in Massachusetts for permanent healthy school meals for all students as we work to permanently solve hunger here in the Commonwealth.