The big trend in K-12 is “more of the same,” as final requirements from 2010’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act are implemented.
These include tighter requirements for reimburseable school breakfasts; new rules for “competitive foods” (snacks, a la carte and other items distributed on school grounds); and a few additional provisions still hanging fire from SY 2012-2013.
(FM's recent look at K-12's Power Players—the 50 largest school districts in the country—identified some clear trends in terms of new programs and opportunities in the segment. Click here to read about them in A Watershed Year for Child Nutrition.)
One of the most expensive parts of the breakfast rules takes effect July 1. “It requires that a full cup of fruit be served (not just offered) at breakfast, beginning in the 2014-15 year,” says Barry Sackin, president of B. Sackin & Associates. FSDs believe it will increase costs and plate waste.
Many districts are struggling with reduced participation they say is the result of the first wave of tighter standards. “In three years we have lost 1.8 million kids from the lunch program, based on average daily participation,” Sackin calculates.
A Congressional report accompanying the January, 2014 Omnibus Spending Bill included language suggesting USDA could provide one-year waivers for districts showing the new breakfast or competitive foods rules would entail hardship costs.
“We’ll still have to see what USDA does and whether it actually creates a waiver program,” cautions Diane Pratt-Heavnor, a spokesperson for the School Nutrition Association.
Advocacy groups pushing “real” and natural food requirements are having an impact. “The Urban Alliance (a group of large school districts) is developing a common spec for antibiotic-free chicken and a bill introduced in California last year would have prohibited ‘plumped’ chicken,” (It later failed in committee ), says Sackin.
“If such efforts take hold, they’d have a big influence the industry.”
Longer term, 2017 looms large because of additional required sodium restrictions in school food. SNA is calling for a delay “pending scientific data to support the need for these levels,” says Pratt-Heavnor. “The original Institute of Medicine report acknowledged a need for periodic reviews of the standards based on research.”