USDA Releases School Meals Application Prototype

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

New Web Application Designed to Save Time, Money

By FNS Office of the Chief Communications Officer

On November 30, 2016, the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) introduced its first ever web-based school meals program application prototype to streamline the process of applying for school meals and improve the user experience.

The system is designed for use by school personnel, rather than parents.

The prototype — which combines research-based best practices, feedback from application users, and innovative user-experience design solutions submitted via a USDA-administered public contest — is specifically designed to address common issues and minimize the potential for errors in the application process.

“After gathering extensive research and drawing upon a wide-variety of resources, USDA is excited to offer a web-based school meals application prototype that will improve the application experience for families and schools alike,” said Kevin Concannon, USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services. “This project is just one of many recent efforts that demonstrate USDA’s commitment to ensuring the integrity of the school meal programs.”

The web-based prototype is primarily intended to serve as a functional model representing best practices in web-based application design.  States and schools may also choose to adapt it for their own use, and USDA strongly encourages software vendors that serve the school market to incorporate the prototype’s integrity features into their own products.

Previously, USDA provided a paper application prototype that schools and states can choose to adopt or adapt to best serve their needs. However, research shows that web-based applications can help reduce error rates by providing prompts and feedback to the applicant throughout the process.  Therefore, as part of its commitment to enhancing integrity across all school meal programs, USDA developed a web-based application prototype as well.

Earlier this year, USDA hosted a public contest to solicit design concepts for an open source web-based school meal application prototype. Drawing on the innovative strategies submitted, USDA partnered with a talented team of private-sector technologists through the Presidential Innovation Fellows program to create an official web-based prototype application. The resulting streamlined prototype is now available on the FNS website. For more information on the web-based prototype application, register for a webinar hosted by USDA on Dec. 15, 2016.

In total, nearly 100,000 schools and institutions serve more than 30 million children through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and over 14 million children through the School Breakfast Program (SBP). Many children receive their meals at no cost or for a reduced price through income-based eligibility. These students rely on school meals as a vital part of their daily nutrition, allowing them to thrive in the classroom and beyond.

The new web-based prototype is just one of several major steps USDA has taken to reduce errors and enhance integrity. USDA recently overhauled its paper application prototype, working with the innovation Lab @ OPM to combine the best elements of applications already in use around the country with that latest research on human centered design. USDA also promotes the use of direct certification, a process which relies on existing sources of information to certify eligible children for free school meals without the need for a household application, thereby reducing the possibility of errors. Errors could lead to improper payments, which present a risk to children who are eligible for assistance.  This new prototype application leverages technology and makes it easier for all concerned.

The school meals programs — NSLP and SBP — are just two of the 15 nutrition assistance programs administered by FNS.  Others include, but are not limited to, the Child and Adult Care Food Program; the Summer Food Service Program; the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

USDA has worked to strengthen its core nutrition programs that support the nation’s vulnerable populations while, at the same time, putting in place strategies that improve the nutritional quality of the foods we provide. Since 2009, 7.9 million fewer people are struggling to provide enough food for themselves or household members and food insecurity for children is at the lowest level on record.

USDA has led the effort to implement the historic Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which ensures that more than 50 million children have a healthier food environment at school. Read more about USDA’s work to improve nutrition under this Administration at Growing a Healthier Future: Improving Nutrition and Access to Healthy Food for Americans.

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About Kay Whatley 2309 Articles
Kay Whatley serves as Editor and Reporter with The Grey Area News. Kay is a published author with over 20 years of experience in the publishing industry. Kay Whatley is wife to Frank Whatley, founder of The Grey Area™ newspaper and The Grey Area News online news website.