New regulations for the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act that take effect July 1, 2014 will further restrict school districts’ abilities to offer a variety of palatable foods for their students. In a press teleconference yesterday, NSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel noted that the layers of new federal regulations were hampering the goals of the federal school nutrition programs.
For instance, the 2010 law requires schools to increase and analyze the nutritional content of foods not only sold in school cafeterias but also vending machines and other school venues not a part of the federal school meal programs. The law also requires new training and educational standards for food service workers.
“We now see that new reporting and compliance requirements are unfunded and otherwise problematic,” Gentzel said. “School boards now are asking for relief from some of the most inoperable regulations and unintended consequences.”
“School boards across the country know the importance of a healthy school meal,” said NSBA President Anne M. Byrne. “Our schools see many students who do not get good nutrition at home and do not have a steady and dependable supply of healthy foods.”
Students whose families serve less nutritious, low-quality foods are more likely to be obese, added Byrne, a member of the board of the Nanuet Union Free School District in New York and a retired registered nurse. In Nanuet, elementary school students are wasting a lot of nutritious food, such as whole-grain bread, because they are unfamiliar with it, she said.
Byrne and Katy Smith Campbell, President of the Alabama School Boards Association, noted that the new regulations will ban chocolate milk, even though their schools serve low-fat versions. Both agreed they would rather children drink chocolate milk than go without.
“There are no provisions for extra servings,” said Campbell, a member of the Macon County Board of Education in Tuskegee, Ala. “In many cases that’s not enough, especially for athletes.”
The federal law is similar to state regulations, which Alabama districts found have taken several years for students to get used to eating healthier fare. However, Smith-Campbell noted that the federal regulations are more restrictive.
Rocky Ahner of Lehighton Area School Board in Pennsylvania noted that his district began offering low fat, low sugar foods in 2010, and saw their lunch totals tick upwards. However, when the more stringent federal requirements went into effect, the district lost $110,000 because students who were eligible for free- and reduced-price lunches no longer wanted them.
“We are concerned about the kids who don’t buy lunches,” he said.