Tell USDA What You Think of The School Lunch Program

Students eating lunch in cafeteria. Source: Food and Nutrition Services, USDA.
Students eating lunch in cafeteria. Source: Food and Nutrition Services, USDA.

USDA Seeks Public Input on Child Nutrition Food Crediting

On December 14, 2017, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) opened a commenting period for the public to submit ideas on food crediting, which is their system “that defines how each food item fits into a meal for the National School Lunch Program and other federal child nutrition programs.”

According to the USDA announcement, information collected [through public comments] will help USDA officials better understand its diverse stakeholders’ perspectives on navigating today’s evolving food and nutrition environment.

Said Brandon Lipps, acting Deputy Under Secretary of the USDA’s Food Nutrition and Consumer Services:   “Serving meals to kids that are wholesome, nutritious, and tasty is a top USDA priority, and we can best accomplish that goal by listening to the voices of our many stakeholders. This is an opportunity to improve customer service by helping our agency gain a better understanding of America’s thoughts, as well as gathering innovative ideas from all who care about our children’s nutritional needs.”

“Stakeholders” able to comment would be US residents or citizens, as the program is supported by public funds — tax dollars. You do not have to have children in the school system to comment, as it’s a public call for feedback.

To claim federal reimbursement for food served through one of USDA’s child nutrition programs, program operators must serve meals and snacks that meet each program’s specific meal pattern requirements. That’s where the USDA crediting system comes in:

USDA’s crediting system defines how each food item fits into the meal pattern.

Whether at a school, institution, or other program overseen by the USDA programs, the crediting system is applied to fit the minimum standards set. These define the meals that may be served. The USDA’s “Request for Information” provides a “systematic and transparent method to ensure each stakeholder has the chance to share their thoughts and opinions on crediting and gather ideas that maximize program operators’ ability to serve healthy, appealing meals.”

USDA is especially interested in understanding both the possible benefits and any negative impacts associated with possible changes to how certain foods may or may not credit. This would affect USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program and Summer Food Service Program in addition to the school meals programs.

Lipps also said. “How food is credited plays a critical role in what America’s children eat at school, in day care, and during the summer. Crediting decisions have an impact on schools and daycares, industry, and most importantly, our children, so we want to be as informed as possible.”

Electronic comments are preferred and may be submitted at the Federal Register from December 14 through February 12, 2018. That linked page includes descriptions of their unique system of food/nutrition crediting; for example:

Volume or weight of the food. All meats/meat alternates and grains are credited in ounces. Fruits, vegetables, and fluid milk are credited based on volume served. However, dried fruit credits at twice the volume served and raw, leafy greens credit as half the volume served. Additionally, tomato puree and tomato paste credit as if they were reconstituted, instead of as volume served.

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service administers 15 nutrition assistance programs in America’s nutrition safety net, including:

  • National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs
  • Child and Adult Care Food Program
  • Summer Food Service Program
  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

For more information, visit fns.usda.gov.

 

Source: United States Department of Agriculture; edited by Kay Whatley (The Grey Area News)

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