HHFKA Alert: Relax Whole Grain standard to the 50% currently permitted in New Jersey.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) has had a major impact on participation in the National School Lunch Program.  The new requirements phased in since the 2010 enactment have resulted in a decreased number of students choosing reimbursable meals, increased food waste and an increased paperwork burden.  These changes have adversely affected the economic efficiency of school cafeterias.
It goes without saying that Boards of Education care about the health and well-being of students in their communities.  Concerns about the regulation’s focus on the burdens created by the Act that have little to no benefit in the effort to promote good nutrition.  These raised concerns, resulted in Congress directing the USDA to relax requirements to make meals more appealing to students.  The NJDA responded by granting waivers for the 100% whole grain rich requirements for the 2015-2016 school year. At the same time, they implemented additional paperwork burdens, further increasing the cost for feeding children, with no nutritional benefit.
A Call to Action
Congress is considering actions that will affect these regulations as they prepare for Child Nutrition Reauthorization.  The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee unanimously approved a compromise providing more flexibility in the standards and elimination of a portion of the onerous paperwork.  Unfortunately, the relaxed requirement to 80% whole grain rich is tougher than the 50% permitted in the waivers for 2015-2016.  (Many other states did not grant waivers and maintained the 100%).  Simply stated, 100% of grains/breads offered with the whole grain rich requirement must be whole grain rich.  Students did not respond well to this requirement, with all sandwiches, pasta, and pizza served being whole grain rich.  This contributed to the “mystery food” reputation of cafeteria food.
Congress should…
·        Relax Whole Grain standard to the 50% currently permitted in New Jersey.
·        Omit the new Non-Program Revenue Tool that changes the audit and requires all costs to be separated.  This is expensive and produces no benefit.  It is designed to prove that a district is not subsidizing a la carte sales with surpluses generated by the sale of reimbursable meals (no one does this)!
·        Eliminate the Forced Service of a Fruit or Vegetable.  Of course we want to encourage students to consume a fruit and/or vegetable with their wholesome meal.  Prior to the HHFKA, schools used “Offer vs. Serve”, which meant fruits and vegetables were available, but not forced onto the student’s plate.  Research shows forced service did not increase consumption.  The School Nutrition Association estimates this new requirement resulted in $684 million of food discarded annually.
·        Less frequent Nutrition Audits  — the HHFKA requires a more extensive and costly review every three years, as opposed to the five year review that was in place prior to the new regulations.  These reviews are costly for our programs and for the State.
·        The SNA is advocating for increased reimbursement monies to cover these unfunded mandates.  Congress can reduce the financial burden by implementing common sense changes.
·        Eliminate Paid Lunch Equity – This requirement compels districts to fill out a complicated excel spreadsheet annually to determine the weighted average of meals, and then impose a certain price increase each year.  This could simply be replaced with a requirement that the school district raise prices if they are not self-sustaining, until they reach a minimum price of $2.75.

Contact your Congressman and Senator and urge for reform now.  They should trust our local Boards of Education to promote healthy choices for our children.